The stage is set for a Saturday showdown in Fort Worth as four teams will compete for the 2022 Women’s NCAA National Championship – 2021 runner-up Oklahoma topped the scores with a meet-high 198.1125 during the first round Thursday solidifying their spot as a favorite in Saturday’s team final. The Sooners were in command from start to finish and despite Head Coach KJ Kindler stating they were the underdogs twice during the press conference, Oklahoma is clearly poised to win.
The Utah Red Rocks also advanced from the day’s first semifinal with a 97.7125. Utah, led by Maile O’Keefe, was on fire in three of the four rotations with a slightly shaky bar rotation – a place where they could show improvement on Saturday to set themselves up to challenge for that top spot. Of their incredible beam lineup, Head Coach Tom Farden noted, “For us, it’s not that unusual to see 9.9., 9.95 up there. It’s our stage. They brought balance beam as a weapon for Utah.”
During the evening session, the reigning SEC champion Florida Gators overcame a slow start on vault and an equipment failure on bars that delayed their rotation about 20 minutes while adjustments were made en route to a 197.9750. On a team full of stars, Trinity Thomas, Megan Skaggs and Leanne Wong had stellar meets. And with a mistake-free bar lineup and better landings on vault – which we all know they’re capable of – the Gators could take it all in Fort Worth.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Head Coach Jenny Rowland said. “[They showed]really great heart, great fight all the way through. We started a little slow, a little tense and kept battling, kept fighting. We talked about taking small bites and not looking at the huge picture of having to advance.”
The surprise of the meet to some but certainly not to themselves were the Auburn Tigers who grabbed the fourth spot in finals with a 197.8375. Suni Lee and Derrian Gobourne were outstanding for the Tigers with Gobourne noting she “knew we could do it. I had this sense of calm about all of it.”
Individual titles were also awarded Thursday. Thomas won the All-Around with a 39.8125 including a 9.9750 on bars and a perfect 10.0 on floor to win the events. Utah’s Jaedyn Rucker earned top honors on vault with a 9.9625 – “I love doing it for my team,” Rucker said, “I have them in my mind every time – just go out there and nail it.” Lee posted a 9.9625 to secure the beam title.
On her All-Around title, Thomas noted, “I feel really amazing, I’ve been working for this ever since I got to school. Just having a few setbacks it was okay and I kept fighting, And to finally do it this time is literally a blessing so I’m just, I couldn’t be more proud of myself.”
The National Championship will be decided Saturday starting at 1pm ET and will be live on ABC.
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Photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics
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