Oklahoma Sooners come from behind to win fifth NCAA women’s gymnastics title

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FORT WORTH, Texas — — Ragan Smith didn’t hear anything. Not his Oklahoma teammates. Not Coach KJ Kindler. Not the roar of the crowd as Florida’s Trinity Thomas’ perfect score on the floor exercise flashed.

Nothing.

A long career in gymnastics has taught Smith to block everything when standing on the balance beam. The noise. Challenges. Classification. All.

“I was so boxed in,” Smith said.

Of course, it looked like it.

Smith finished Oklahoma’s rally from last after a spin to the program’s fifth national title on Saturday, his steel 9.9625 serving as an exclamation point as the Sooners edged Florida, Utah and Auburn in a tense finale.

A year after finishing second to Michigan by less than a tenth, Oklahoma’s 198.2 score was just enough to overtake the Gators (198.075), followed by the Utes (197.750) and Tigers (197.350). , who had the best season in the program’s history after the arrival of Olympic champion Sunisa Lee.

Ending the encounter with a boisterous celebration isn’t exactly how Kindler thought things would work for the Sooners after a lackluster performance on the ground that included Smith and teammate Jordan Bowers going out of bounds and leaving the Sooners watching the rest of the game. field after the first rotation.

Only briefly, as it turned out.

“What a fight, what a heart they had to fight back after the floor,” Kindler said. “They didn’t count themselves (and) pushed, not just on the jump, but on every event after that.”

Oklahoma ended up posting the team‘s best score on each of the other three events, barely panicking despite knowing the margin for error it had was gone. Katherine Levasseur’s brilliant 9.9750 off the jump provided a jolt and the Sooners were on their way.

“We caught fire on the jump and I felt like we kept the momentum in our favor from that point on,” Kindler said. “But I mean, we had to change momentum to start. So proud of how they continued to nurture each other.

Kindler felt her team was rolling, so she did something she rarely does: she faded into the background, even with a title hanging.

“Sometimes you have to know when not to talk,” she said.

Even if it meant ditching his patented pre-beam pep talk. Kindler usually bends down to talk to each athlete before the event, giving last-minute directions, maybe a little motivation, and whatever she thinks the moment calls for. The timing this time compelled her to let her leaders do their job.

Senior Carly Woodard had been doing it all season. She came across a popular gym blog earlier this year and found an article that predicted it was safe to count the Sooners.

“I saw this and immediately sent it to my senior class and was like, ‘What are we going to do about this? ‘” Woodard said.

Woodard printed it out and posted it in several places around the team’s facilities in Norman, including the team’s refrigerator, a constant reminder that despite the program’s remarkable success – this week marked the ninth consecutive trip for the ‘Oklahoma in the national semifinals – the skeptics remained.

Consider them gone now thanks in part to a serious dose of courage from Smith. The 2017 U.S. national champion and an alternate from the 2016 Olympic and 2018 World Championship teams went last on the balance beam. Moments earlier, Thomas had put together his perfect 12th routine of the season, a dazzling floor drill that drew the Gators within a tenth of a point.

Florida fans started chanting “10! ten!” as she finished, and when the judges forced it, the roar echoed across the floor of Dickie’s Arena. Barely 50 feet away, Smith didn’t even notice. The same thing happened earlier in the season when the Sooners faced the Gators in Gainesville. Smith posted a 9.875 as Thomas dropped a 10.

Florida ended up winning that night. Smith made sure it didn’t happen again. She sprinted towards her teammates after her run, and when her score assured the Sooners they would not be caught, the 21-year-old was mobbed.

“I’ve never known so much love for the team before,” Smith said, her national championship trophy sitting next to her microphone as she spoke. “Everyone was supporting me.”

Thomas, who competed against Smith when the two were together in elite gymnastics, said Smith “knows how to get there” but praised her teammates for pushing the Sooners to the limit.

“We went out there and gave it our all and did our thing,” Thomas said. “We’re still finalists, so I’m super proud of this team.”

Lee ended a historic season by helping Auburn to its best finish in program history. His total of 36.250 was the second best of the day behind Thomas, just like in Thursday’s semifinals.

The 19-year-old star spent the aftermath taking selfies with fans before disappearing down a tunnel. Who knows when we’ll see her on the field again.

She plans to return to elite training, perhaps sooner rather than later. Either way, his impact on the Tigers will linger. Auburn was ranked 14th in the preseason. On the last day of the season, they were competing for a title. it is progress.

“We proved tonight that we were in the Final Four conversation,” coach Jeff Graba said, “and that we weren’t an anomaly.”

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