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Oklahoma Upsets Florida For NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Title

By Blythe Lawrence | April 16, 2022, 7:03 p.m. (ET)

Ragan Smith competes on the balance beam during the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships on Oct. 4, 2017 in Montreal, Canada.

 

Former U.S. champion and 2016 Olympic alternate Ragan Smith turned in the beam routine that clinched the Oklahoma Sooners’ fifth NCAA women’s gymnastics title in eight years Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas, in a comeback stunner that will be talked about in gymnastics for years to come.

In and of itself, Smith’s 9.9625 on the Sooners’ final apparatus was a mark of personal perseverance after small mistakes on floor exercise and uneven bars earlier in the four-team final that pitted top-ranked Oklahoma against Florida, Utah, and Auburn. 

More broadly, it summed up how the Sooners had exploded out of the massive hole they plunged into during the competition’s opening rotation. Opening up on floor exercise, uncharacteristic mistakes meant no Sooner gymnast was able to score 9.9 or better, ranking them fourth out of four teams. 

Yet Oklahoma, seeking its first NCAA title since 2019, would not be denied. The deep Sooner squad collectively charged back into contention with lights-out performances on their next two apparatuses, leaving coach KJ Kindler to declare that she had “never seen anything like this in my life from any team we’ve had.”

“They were never going to give up,” she added.

On vault, Oklahoma’s five counting scores totaled 49.6625 points, the highest number compiled by any team in NCAA championships history on the apparatus. They followed up with 49.725 on uneven bars, the best single-apparatus total by any team on Saturday. 

By the time they went to balance beam for their final rotation, they had a 0.2 lead. And that was when the beauty happened: On what is often the most unpredictable of events, every OU gymnast seemed to hit a career-defining performance, with Smith’s the best of the day.

“Before I went I thought, I have nothing to lose, I just have to go up there and do me,” said Smith, a junior who grew up in nearby Lewisville, Texas, and was an alternate to the 2016 Olympic team before becoming U.S. champion in 2017. 

Oklahoma’s 198.200 denied Florida its first national title since 2015. Displaying beautiful gymnastics on every event, Gator gymnasts kept Florida vying for the title down to the final routine. Senior Trinity Thomas, who won the NCAA all-around title Thursday, was the top scorer on vault (9.9875), uneven bars (9.975), and floor exercise, where she earned the day’s only perfect 10.

But even that wasn’t enough to outmaneuver the Sooners, who finished 0.112 ahead, confirmed by Smith’s beam score. 

Perennial powerhouse Utah, featuring 2020 Olympian Grace McCallum and Olympic alternate Kara Eaker, was third with 197.75. Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee’s Auburn finished fourth with 197.35. 

“What makes me most proud is we didn’t start off the best, but we fought back hard and that means a lot more than starting off strong,” Oklahoma freshman Jordan Bowers said. “All of our hard work has paid off.”

Four 2020 Olympians — Lee, McCallum, Jordan Chiles of UCLA and Jade Carey of Oregon State — took part in Thursday’s individual final, which also served as the final four team qualification. Event champions were Thomas bars and floor, Lee on beam, and Jaedyn Rucker of Utah vault.

Blythe Lawrence

Blythe Lawrence has covered four Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @rockergymnastix.

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