As Michigan senior Sachi Sugiyama waved to the crowd from the seventh-place podium for floor exercise Sunday, she waved goodbye to a career that began when she was a little girl in Keller.
Luckily for Sugiyama, her career ended surrounded by friends and family who made a short trip to the Fort Worth Convention Center Arena, the site of the 2015 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships.
“It feels great,” she said. “It was very welcoming. I got to see some of my old teammates and some of the little girls that have grown up so much since last time I’d seen them. It was really exciting to represent Michigan one more time today.”
Sugiyama was one of four Texans and three from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to earn a top-eight spot in the individual event finals Sunday.
Sugiyama jumped out to an early lead in the floor exercise, posting a 9.9000 as the third gymnast to perform Sunday. Her score held in the top three through the first rotation but eventually saw Florida’s Kytra Hunter, a co-all-around champion from Friday, take the floor exercise title with a 9.9625 score.
“I was very pleased with my performance today,” Sugiyama said. “I wanted to lay it all on the floor today and just have fun. I think I did that for the last floor routine of my college career, and I think I did well.”
Plano native Chayse Capps, an Oklahoma sophomore, scored a 9.9125 on the balance beam in her second national finals in as many years, earning her fourth place.
Capps held the lead for a short time, but the event ultimately went to 2008 U.S. Olympian and UCLA senior Samantha Peszek with a score of 9.9500.
Peszek, who shared the all-around title with Hunter on Friday, won an Olympic silver medal for Team USA’s finish in 2008 and was the balance beam champion at the NCAA meet in 2011.
“To be able to leave gymnastics and leave the sport that I’ve done for 21 years in peace and knowing that I’ve done everything that I could possibly do and be able to have the opportunity to do collegiate gymnastics and also the elite world, I think I checked all the boxes,” she said. “I feel good and excited to start the rest of my life.”
For Capps and the other Sooners — including McKinney sophomore McKenzie Wofford, who was fourth in uneven parallel bars at 9.9250 —standing on the podium with athletes such as Peszek was a sign of good things to come.
“It’s a little intimidating, but they are the best of the best and that’s why they are here,” she said.
“Since we’ve been in this arena now, we’re ready next year, because we’ve already touched all of the equipment,” she continued. “For all of us, we’re getting used to it, so that’s nice.”
The title on parallel bars went to Utah’s Georgia Dabritz, who scored a 9.9625 after posting two 10s in the preliminary and Super Six rounds this weekend.
Stanford freshman Elizabeth Price flipped her way to first place in the vault with a 9.9333 and finished in a tie for fifth on the bars.
For all the Lone Star gymnasts, this championship carried a subtext.
Twenty-five of the athletes who competed in the championships in Fort Worth were from Texas, but the state only has one collegiate women’s gymnastics program, Division II Texas Woman’s University, which was the host school of the 2015 NCAA Women’s Championships.
Those 25 athletes looked to serve as advocates of the sport, in hopes that one Division I school in Texas would add women’s gymnastics and give Texans a college gymnastics option closer to friends and family.
“I just hope, not only just having Texas gymnasts represented here, but the hype that this caused and the excitement of how many other gymnasts have come to watch, I hope they take this into consideration that maybe this is a possible future in college sports,” Sugiyama said.
Looking back on the weekend, holding the event in Fort Worth was a success for these athletes.
“It was all you could wish for really for gymnastics,” Sugiyama said. “It’s not the most popular sport in all states, but to be able to hear that roar after a routine is all you can wish for.”
How Texan gymnasts fared
▪ Chase Capps, So., Oklahoma (Plano): 9.9125, 4th
▪ Caitlin Atkinson, Jr., Auburn (Houston): 9.8250, T-8th
Uneven parallel bars
▪ McKenzie Wofford, So., Oklahoma (McKinney): 9.9250, 4th
▪ Sachi Sugiyama, Sr., Michigan (Keller): 9.9000, T-7th