Florida's Kennedy Baker competes on the vault during the NCAA college women's gymnastics championships in St. Louis.
Florida advances to Super Six
ST. LOUIS — When it was over and she was mentally cradling a national title, Alex McMurtry sidled up to her coach Jenny Rowland.
“She came up to me and she said, 'Jenny, you told me at the beginning of this year that I could dream big,' “ said Rowland. “And I said, 'Alex you can be national champion.'
“She said she kind of believed me.”
Kind of, but not really.
“I came out of that meeting and told my teammates I didn't know if I was capable of that,” McMurtry said. “And on my first couple of floor routines (this season) I had falls so I wondered if maybe coming back on floor wasn't going to happen.”
Oh, it happened. And that's why late on Friday night McMurtry looked at her coach and said three beautiful words.
“I did it.”
The junior won the NCAA all-around title, which is awarded based on the semifinals, with the second-highest score in the history of the championships and the highest score ever for a semifinal. She is the fifth Gator gymnast in the last six years to win the individual national title.
In doing so, she led Florida to a second-place finish and another Super Six today. The Gators will compete tonight at 9 with the other five teams who made it and will be shooting for their fourth national title.
No. 2 LSU had the best score in the second session while Alabama made it a clean sweep for the SEC by finishing third. LSU finished with a score of 198.275 to Florida's 197.8125.
LSU and Florida had the two best scores in the semifinals, each besting No. 1 Oklahoma.
“(Friday) is the stressful day,“ Rowland said. “It's party time (Saturday). It was so stressful. It was so intense. Every team here was on point. You couldn't make a major mistake.
“For us to have season-high performances on the national stage was amazing.”
Even with all of the season-high scores, it was a gutsy performance by a freshman that spurred Florida to its sixth straight Super Six.
On the uneven parallel bars, Florida's fourth gymnast — Kennedy Baker — fell to the ground on her dismount and ended up with a 9.2125. Another big mistake and the Gators likely would have been heading home today.
But Amelia Hundley came through with a 9.8625 score before McMurtry finished it off with a 9.95.
“That's what (Amelia) has been doing all year long,” Rowland said. “That's what this team has done all year long. We got each other's back. For Amelia to follow Ken and be cool and calm and do what she does was amazing to see.”
Florida then had a clean showing on the beam and slid into second with a strong floor routine.
In the afternoon session there were no surprises. Oklahoma advanced with the best score of the semifinals at 197.725.
Also advancing were No. 5 UCLA, which finished second, and No. 3 Utah. Oregon State, Washington and Denver saw their seasons come to a close.
In a wild and hectic night session with cheers moving from section to section like a wave on steroids, Florida opened up with a strong performance on the vault.
The Gators finished with a score of 49.5125 highlighted by a 9.975 from McMurtry. Her score — which included a 10 from one judge — tied for the third best in NCAA history by a Gator, trailing only a pair of 10s by former Gator gymnast Susan Hines.
“It set the tone for the night,” said Rowland.
It was an indication of things to come for McMurtry.
McMurtry then shared wins on both the uneven parallel bars and the beam (again getting a 10 from one judge) before finishing it off with a 9.95 on the floor.
“It doesn't feel real yet,” McMurtry said. “I just want to give my parents a hug. They were up there, my brother was up there all Gator-chomping. That's a pretty big deal for my family (who are Kentucky basketball fans).”
Reality will eventually set in for McMurtry and all the Gators who have to turn around and compete for a title today.
“We have to get down off this high,” Rowland said. “Have a great sleep and really just recover and do it all over again. With the pressure and intensity it takes a lot out of you.
“Tomorrow is pure fun, pure joy.”
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
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