Last night, the "Super Six" competed in the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships. The University of Florida Gators prevailed over Oklahoma, Alabama, UCLA, LSU, and Georgia to win their first ever national title. But the competition was not without uncertainty. Two of Florida's veteran, consistent competitors, Senior Ashanee Dickerson and Sophomore Kytra Hunter fell on balance beam, their first event of the competition. The chance of a national title looked bleak, but the Gators were able to smash their other three events. Led by Freshman Bridget Sloan who delivered 4 huge performances scoring 9.9 or better, the Gators were able come back and contend for the title.
Bridget Sloan is a member of the 2008 US Olympic Team and the 2009 World Champion and has proven to be an integral part of Florida's successes this year. While only a Freshman, she has shown so much promise in her first season with the Gators that she may just be the next Courtney Kupets (known as the most decorated and successful collegiate gymnast of all time). With all her international elite experience, even competing amongst the best collegiate programs is mere child's play to her. Bridget tied with LSU's Reaghan Courville for the SEC All-Around title, and won the All-Around title at the NCAA Semifinals on Friday night. Other notable athletes on Florida's roster are national team members and sister duo Mackenzie and Bridgette Caquatto, and 2008 Olympian Marissa King, who competed for Great Britain. Can you believe that our very own Ms. Diane had the opportunity to judge this team, not once, but TWICE this season?
Alabama's Ashley Priess on beam
After their subpar beam performance, Florida picked up ground on Floor and Vault, and trailed the two-time reigning national champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide, by .025 going into the last rotation. Florida was on bars, and Alabama on Beam. Balance beam is the event that will make or break a team, and unfortunately, it broke Alabama. A fall by Sarah Demeo and near fall by Kayla Williams cost them the title. Oklahoma delivered a stellar floor rotation to pull ahead of Alabama, but they could not catch the Gators, who attacked their bar routines and delivered some huge scores.
Oklahoma's second-place performance should not be ignored, and their story is an inspiring one. In December, senior Kayla Nowak, one of their top performers, was doing a bar routine during practice. During her release element (which she has done hundreds of times since she was a teenager), something went terribly wrong. She caught her heels on the high bar, fell, and she landed awkwardly on her back. She could not breathe for about 30 seconds. She could move all of her limbs, but after x-rays, it was revealed that her injury was worse than initially thought. She fractured and dislocated one of her vertebra, and during surgery, the surgeon quickly discovered that all the ligaments surrounding it were torn and her spinal cord exposed. It is a miracle that Kayla Nowak was not paralyzed that day in December. Though her gymnastics career was decidedly over prematurely, that did not hinder her spirit. Kayla has been a source of inspiration for her teammates, and has been with them at every single meet cheering from the sidelines. Within four weeks of the injury, Kayla, unsure if she would ever be able to walk without a walker or a cane, showed up at Oklahoma's first meet against Georgia in a back brace. Three months later, the back brace was off. Oklahoma's second place finish at the National Championships, right on the heels of the best team of the season, is a huge victory for them, and for Kayla. Kayla is a tremendous inspiration to me, and her unbreakable spirit really inspired and drove her team to success.
EDIT: the competition is right on youtube! See below!
Remember, no classes this week! Enjoy your vacation!
Peace, love, and gymnastics,
Spectrum Gymnastics Academy
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About the Author
Coach Sarah is a former Rhode Island College gymnast, NCGA National qualifier, All-American, current gymnastics coach and judge, and contributor for the gymnastics news source, The Gymternet. Find out what's going on at Spectrum and learn more about the incredible sport of gymnastics!