Florida moves on to NCAA finals; star Sloan leads all-around
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Florida gymnast Bridget Sloan likes to talk about going ''four for four'' - hitting all the routines in one meet.
On Saturday, the senior will go for another ''four for four'' - four consecutive NCAA titles with the Gators. And that's after adding three individual national championships to give her six for her college career.
Sloan won the all-around and carried her team to the top score in the first semifinal session at the NCAA women's championships Friday.
The Gators, with a score of 197.475, qualified for the Super Six finals along with Southeastern Conference rivals LSU and Georgia.
Top-ranked Oklahoma, which shared the 2014 title with Florida, had the highest score in the second semifinal session at 197.7125.
Alabama was second at 197.3875, reaching the finals for the ninth straight year and giving the SEC four teams in the Super Six finals Saturday night. UCLA (196.7) took the last spot.
Sloan, who won the all-around as a freshman in 2013, posted a 37.9 that held up through the evening session. She was co-champion on uneven bars and balance beam with a score of 9.95 on both, tying Georgia's Brittany Rogers on bars and UCLA's Danusia Francis on beam.
''It's been an incredible journey, but we've got one more day,'' said Sloan, a 2008 U.S. Olympian whose all-around score was 39.7 with all four events at 9.9 or higher. ''We're going to bring the heat tomorrow.''
Brandie Jay of Georgia and Alabama's Katie Bailey tied for the vault title at 9.95. Denver's Nina McGee won floor exercise, also at 9.95.
Florida is trying to become the third team to win at least four straight titles. Georgia took five straight from 2005-09, and Utah won the first five NCAA meets from 1982-86.
The Gators have a first-year coach in Jenny Rowland, who replaced Rhonda Faehn when Faehn took a job with USA Gymnastics a week after winning the 2015 title.
''Everybody that asks me, `Hey, are you going to win a fourth one?' And my answer has always been, `You know what? I've never won one before,''' Rowland said. ''So this is an opportunity for me help this team win another championship and it would be the first time that I would have a championship of my own.''
Oklahoma, which finished third last year and was runner-up to Florida in 2013, was led by Chayse Capps. The junior from the Dallas-Fort Worth area had the high all-around score in the late session at 39.6125.
''We don't necessarily focus on the other team,'' Capps said. ''We try to focus on what we do in the gym and how we train and we keep the energy within our team. So that's what we're going to be focusing on tomorrow.''
Ashleigh Gnat and Myia Hambrick boosted LSU to the second spot in the early session at 197.3375, with Gnat recording a 9.925 on vault and Hambrick matching that score on floor exercise. A year ago, the Tigers didn't qualify for the Super Six.
''I don't think we were really thinking a lot about last year,'' Gnat said. ''We were just focused on what we had to do today and the team that we have creating the momentum to be able to go into tomorrow with a good mindset.''
Brandie Jay energized the Georgia crowd with the top early score on vault at 9.95 to help the team reach the finals for the third time in the past four years with a score of 196.725.
''No question we've had an up-and-down season and I think a lot of people counted us out,'' Georgia coach Danna Durante said. ''They're tough, they're resilient. We had no doubt.''
Stanford's Elizabeth Price, the only individual event winner returning from last year, won't repeat her crown on vault. The sophomore, an alternate on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, was tied for third after the early session at 9.9.