FORT WORTH, Texas — Ragan Smith didn’t hear a thing. Not her Oklahoma teammates. Not coach K.J. Kindler. Not the roar of the crowd as the perfect score on floor exercise by Florida’s Trinity Thomas flashed.
A long career in gymnastics taught Smith to block it all out when you’re standing on the balance beam.
“I was so locked in,” Smith said.
Sure looked like it.
Smith completed Oklahoma’s rally from last after one rotation to the program’s fifth national NCAA women’s gymnastics title Saturday, her 9.9625-point score on beam serving as the exclamation point as the Sooners edged Florida for the championship in a taut team final.
A year after finishing second to Michigan by less than a tenth of a point, Oklahoma’s score of 198.2 was just enough to slip by the Gators (198.075), followed by Utah (197.750) and Auburn (197.350), which put together the best season in program history following the arrival of reigning Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee.
“That’s what you’re going to get in a national championship. You could see it across the board amongst all teams,” Florida coach Jenny Rowland said. “All teams were just trying, fighting a little harder, looking for more.
“Maybe not exactly what the Gators are capable of doing but a stunning performance nonetheless.”
Finishing the meet with a raucous celebration is not exactly how Kindler thought things would work out for the Sooners after a so-so performance on floor that included Smith and Jordan Bowers stepping out of bounds and left the Sooners staring up at the rest of the field after the first rotation.
Only briefly, as it turned out.
“What fight, what heart they had to fight back after floor,” Kindler said. “They didn’t count themselves out (and) pushed, not just on vault, but every single event after that.”
Oklahoma ended up posting the top team score on each of the other three events, hardly panicking despite knowing whatever margin for error it had was gone. Katherine Levasseur’s 9.9750 on vault provided a jolt, and the Sooners were on their way.
“We caught fire on vault, and I felt like we kept momentum in our favor from that point forward,” Kindler said. “But I mean, we had to swing momentum to begin with. So really proud of the way they just kept feeding off each other.”
Oklahoma’s last even was beam. Smith, the 2017 U.S. all-around champion and an alternate on the 2016 Olympic and 2018 world championship teams, went up last. Moments earlier Thomas had put together her 12th perfect routine of the season, a dazzling floor exercise that drew the Gators within a tenth of a point.
The Florida fans began chanting “10! 10!” as she finished, and when the judges obliged, the roar reverberated across the Dickie’s Arena floor. Barely 50 feet away, Smith didn’t notice. The same thing had happened earlier in the season when the Sooners faced the Gators in Gainesville. Smith posted a 9.875 just as Thomas dropped a 10.
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Florida ended up winning that night. Smith made sure it didn’t happen again.
Thomas, who competed against Smith when the two were in elite gymnastics together, said Smith “knows how to get it done” but praised her teammates for pushing the Sooners to the limit.
“We went out there and we gave it all we had and we did our thing,” Thomas said. “We are still runnersup, so I’m super proud of this team.”
Lee finished off a historic season by helping Auburn to its best finish in program history. Her all-around total of 36.250 was second-best of the day behind Thomas, just as it was during Thursday’s team semifinals that also determined the all-around and individual event champions.
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