Florida seeks 4th straight gymnastics title with new coach
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Florida's Jenny Rowland inherited a three-time NCAA women's gymnastics champion for her debut as a head coach.
The former U.S. national team member says she always knew what the first question would be: Can the standout Bridget Sloan and the Gators make it four straight starting Friday in Fort Worth?
''There is an elephant in the room,'' said Rowland, who was an assistant at Auburn before Florida coach Rhonda Faehn took a job with USA Gymnastics a week after the Gators won the 2015 title. ''Is it possible? Absolutely. This team is confident, they're talented, they've put in the work, they've put in the effort. Is it going to happen? That's out of my hands.''
The Gators hope to join Georgia and Utah as the only schools to win at least four straight championships. The Bulldogs won five straight from 2005-09, and the Utes won the first five NCAA meets from 1982-86.
Oklahoma, which shared the 2014 crown with Florida in the only co-championship in the event's 34-year history, is the top-ranked team. The Gators are No. 2.
''For us, consistency has been the key this year,'' Sooners coach K.J. Kindler said. ''Though we don't have a young team, at the beginning of the season we had a very inexperienced team with 40 percent of our routines being new from last year.''
The all-around and individual event champions will be settled Friday, when the Super Six teams are set with three each from two semifinal sessions. The team champion will be crowned Saturday night.
Things to consider from a 12-team field that includes 12 all-around competitors from schools that did not qualify as a team:
NEW FORMAT: The event will be two days instead of the traditional three. Previously, the third day was for individual event championships, using top qualifiers from the four events on the first day and starting over with another round of routines. This year, the event winners will come from the opening-day scores, just as the all-around champion does. The team championship will be the final event.
''I think it's a little bittersweet because, obviously, crowning a national champion on that third day for individual events is exciting, but it was also a little bit anticlimactic coming from the Super Six into that third day of competition,'' Georgia coach Danna Durante said.
TOP GATOR: Sloan is a three-time NCAA event champion coming off her second straight regional all-around title and is the leader of the Gators' pursuit of another team title. The former Olympian finished second on uneven bars and vault last year.
''She has a spirit unlike many that she is so determined and so intrinsically motivated to be the best that she can be,'' Rowland said.
LONE WINNER: Stanford's Elizabeth Price is the only returning individual winner from last year. All-around co-champs Samantha Peszek of UCLA and Kytra Hunter of Florida were among the senior winners in 2015. Price, an alternate on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, won the vault as a freshman at 9.9333.
BACK AGAIN? Alabama qualified for the NCAAs for the 34th straight year after a record 31st regional title. The Crimson Tide has won six titles, including two straight in 2011-12.
''We never take it for granted, and it never gets old,'' coach Dana Duckworth said.
TEXAS TIES: Six of Florida's 14 gymnasts are from Texas, including four from the Dallas area. Nebraska is the only team qualifier without at least one gymnast from Texas, which has produced Olympic all-around champions Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin and could have a third this year in Simone Biles.