Oklahoma gymnastics: Sooners' hopes for 3rd straight national title dashed

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

For the past 10 years, women's Oklahoma gymnastics and NCAA Championships have been synonymous.

For the first time since 2012, Oklahoma will not be among the final four teams -- or "Four on the Floor" as the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships refers to the four teams left standing -- competing for the national championship.

The team from No. 5 Utah won evening Semifinal II round with a score of 197.9375 and No. 4 Florida finished second (197.8750). Oklahoma was third (196.6625), ahead of No. 8 Alabama (195.4125). The 196 score was the Sooners' lowest in a season in which they posted an NCAA record 12 scored of 198 or better.

The top two teams in each semifinal advance to the NCAA championship final on Saturday. No. 2-ranked LSU and No. 3 California advanced out of the other semifinal.

The two-time defending national champion Sooners, widely expected to win a third straight national title, got off to an highly uncharacteristic bad start in their opening rotation and were not able to overcome it, finishing third in their semifinal on Thursday night at Dickies Arena in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 all season and carrying an undefeated 35-0 record entering the NCAA Championship national semifinals, the Sooners were highly favored to finish off a record-setting season with a third consecutive national championship and their seventh overall.

"It wasn't scripted as we expected, but we've taken great pride in winning and we'll take great pride in losing," said OU head coach K.J. Kindler in her post-competition comments. "This was character building for this team."

The Sooners' fate was determined early on in their semifinal. OU started on the vault in their first rotation. Three of the Oklahoma gymnasts had major errors with their landing. The lowest score is thrown out, but two still counted, and OU ended the opening rotation with a team vault score of 48.3250, the lowest vault score of the season and the worst since 2008. Right off the bat, OU found itself in the hole and in fourth place after the opening rotation.

Oklahoma responded in championship form in the next rotation, posting its second highest uneven bars score in an NCAA Championship event (49.6625) and making some headway in narrowing their semifinal deficit. Senior Audrey Davis led the Sooners on bars with a score of 9.9625 and was crowned co-national champion in the event.

Any hope of advancing to the championship probably ended in the third rotation, when two Sooners fell from the balance beam. That was unfortunate because it overshadowed a couple of tremendous performances by OU's Faith Torres and Davis. Torres and Davis posted identical scores of 9.9625 to share co-national championships on beam.

The Sooners final event was floor exercise, but by then OU's hope of finishing in the top two teams in their semifinal was beyond their reach.

Perhaps we didn't miss enough," Kindler said afterwards. "I know that sounds weird, but perhaps we didn't miss enough this year and weren't under enough pressure in moments that really mattered to rebound from.

"They were trying to put everything into it," the Sooner head coach said. "I'm really proud of the way they bounced back. This is an incredible team, and we'll live to flip another day."

Utah, Florida, LSU and Cal will compete for the national championship on Saturday. Oklahoma defeated all but Florida during the regular season, including topping LSU on two occasions.