The Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team, the defending co-champion, finished with the top overall team score in the second session of the NCAA Championship preliminary round Friday at the Fort Worth Convention Center, posting a final 197.40.
But it didn’t come without few tense moments.
Heading into the final rotation, Oklahoma held a one-point lead over Nebraska and trailed leaders Auburn and Alabama, both of which were sitting with a bye, by around 49 points.
Junior Keeley Kmieciak led off with an impressive opening 9.90 on the beam, but the next two Sooners gymnasts fell during their routine, leading to scores of 9.20 and 9.325.
It was the second and third falls for Oklahoma all season and the first time the Sooners had to take a score with a fall included, coach K.J. Kindler said.
Kindler, through an assistant coach, told the next three gymnasts to pull some of the more difficult portions of their routine, scaling back to a “defensive strategy.”
“When they had their routines changed, you know that they know that there’s been an issue and they have to be strong,” Kindler said. “So they’re going up there full well knowing.”
Those gymnasts followed the change with scores of 9.90, 9.90 and 9.85 to seal the Sooners’ bid to the Super Six finals Saturday, marking their fifth Super Six appearance in six years. The second 9.90 after the falls came from sophomore Chayse Capps, a Plano native.
Joining Oklahoma is last year’s other co-champion, Florida (197.475), along with Utah (197.475), Stanford (197.175), Alabama (197.10) and Auburn (197.075), making its first Super Six appearance since 1993.
“I think the girls did a good job keeping their head down in an environment they’ve never been in before,” Auburn coach Jeff Graba said.
The door was opened for Auburn by LSU, which suffered three falls on the balance beam, resulting in a 48.275 overall score in the event, the lowest of any team Friday.
“We knew how close the scores were,” Auburn junior Caitlin Atkinson said. “I knew what scores they had to get. So I knew it was close, and kind of waiting and keeping out hope that we had done enough was kind of stressful. But it was also really fun because we knew we had a chance to make history and we did.”
Former Olympian and UCLA senior Samantha Peszek claimed a share of the all-around title with Florida senior Kytra Hunter, who won the 2012 all-around title as a freshman, with scores of 39.600.
“The Olympics was seven years ago, and so to be healthy and still be in gymnastics seven years later in my mind is a really big accomplishment,” Peszek said. “I genuinely love gymnastics and competing is my favorite part of the sport, and all day today I was trying to focus on just my passion and love for the sport, because it was just another opportunity to do what I love.”
Utah’s Georgia Dabritz rallied after an opening event fall on the beam to post a perfect 10 on the uneven bars, the only 10 of the day in any event.
“We were heading into our second event and the team definitely needed me to turn around and have a quick comeback,” Dabritz said. “That definitely happened, and then I ended my night on a high and it felt amazing.”
Keller native and Michigan senior Sachi Sugiyama finished 17th on the all-around list with a total score of 39.250.
The team portion of the championships will be completed at 6 p.m. Saturday. The individual finals are at 2 p.m. Sunday.
For the defending co-champion Sooners, it’s about resetting their memories of a stumbled finish to claim the ultimate prize.
“I’m very excited for them tomorrow night because they have the opportunity to do it again,” Kindler said.