By Jordan McPherson – OnlyGators.com Contributor
After trailing for most of the Super Six for the second-straight year, it came down to sophomore Bridgette Caquatto pulling off a miracle for No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics, which forced a late tie and split the 2014 NCAA Championship on Saturday night in Birmingham, AL.
UF’s final competitor in the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center, Caquatto needed to score a 9.95 on floor if the Gators wanted to earn a share of the national title with the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners.
And she delivered, matching her career-high mark for the third time this season as Florida locked up with Oklahoma for the lead just one year after winning the title for the first time in program history.
“It was absolutely incredible,” Gators head coach Rhonda Faehn said in a post-meet interview. “Our athletes, I mean, they knew what was on the line, and they just competed their hearts out.”
Florida and Oklahoma both posted a 198.175 — the highest score in Super Six history — and subsequently split the title after a long delay as judges attempted to ensure there was no method by which to break the tie. By tying with the Gators, the Sooners became just the sixth program to finish in the top spot. LSU (197.600) finished in third and Alabama (fourth, 197.550), Georgia (fifth, 197.050) and Nebraska (sixth, 196.500) rounded out the field.
Competing in the Olympic rotation for the second straight night, Florida put up a strong showing on vault to start out the Super Six. UF finished with a 49.475 on the horse with sophomore Bridget Sloan and junior Kytra Hunter scoring 9.950s to end in a five-way tie for the highest individual scores on the apparatus.
After their second-rotation bye, the Gators posted a meet-high 49.600 on the uneven bars — the best mark in program history in the championship meet and the third-highest total since the Super Six began in 1982. Caquatto and senior Mackenzie Caquatto both scored 9.950 with Bridgette’s total tying her career high and Mackenzie’s mark matching her season-best score.
Sloan, senior Alaina Johnson and sophomore Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto hit 9.900s to round out UF’s total.
Florida’s third event of the night — balance beam — proved to be the most crucial one for it to execute. In the University Park Regionals and Session II of the semifinals, UF totaled three combined falls on the beam, resulting in scores of 48.575 and 49.300, respectively, on the apparatus.
But on Saturday night, Florida performed much better, scoring a 49.500, the highest Super Six score in the event in program history and second in the meet only to Oklahoma’s 49.525.
Sloan, who fell in both the regional meet and the semifinals, had one of her best performances on the beam, scoring a team-high 9.500 to tieo with Nebraska’s Emily Wong for the top score of the meet. Johnson and Hunter both posted a 9.900 on beam, while Johnson, Mackenzie Caquatto and freshman Claire Boyce each scored a 9.875.
Heading into its final rotation, UF (148.550) trailed OU (148.625) by 0.075 and UA (148.700) by 0.150. The Gators went to floor, the Sooners headed to the vault, and the Tide advanced to the beam.
Falls by the Crimson Tide’s Diandra Milliner and Kim Jacob resulted in a meet-low 48.850 score in Alabama’s final rotation, eliminating it from contention for the title.
But Oklahoma flourished on vault, posting a 49.550 after scoring two 9.950s and two 9.900s on the horse to support its already dominating results on bars (49.500), beam (49.525) and floor (49.600).
With their backs against the walls, the Gators knew they needed to execute on floor — the team’s best discipline — if they wanted to be back-to-back champions.
After Boyce (9.875), junior Rachel Spicer (9.900) and Johnson (9.900) put up satisfactory numbers to start the rotation, Florida looked to the back half of its participants to close out the meet.
Sloan scored a 9.925 as the fourth UF gymnast on floor, and Hunter and Bridgette Caquatto capped things off with back-to-back 9.950s to give UF a 49.625 on floor — exactly what it needed to tie Oklahoma for the top spot.
“I told them, ‘Just don’t hold back. Just let it all go.’ And I saw exactly that,” Faehn said. “They just fed off one another, and I mean, we couldn’t have asked for more from them tonight.
“I mean, they just were lights out, and I have to congratulate Oklahoma because it couldn’t have happened to a better person and I respect [Oklahoma head coach] KJ [Kindler] more than anything and I’m so happy for the both of us.”
The Gators had never won an NCAA title in gymnastics before 2013 but have now captured back-to-back national titles. Faehn returns Sloan, Hunter and others in 2015 as Florida will look ahead to a potential three-peat.