It was an electric Friday afternoon with raucous crowds and thoughts of just ‘what if’ inside the Fort Worth Convention Center Arena during semifinal one the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships as the number two and defending champion UCLA Bruins and third-ranked LSU Tigers went one-two to reach Saturday night’s Final Four Team Final.
It was exciting and emotional for all four teams in the first semifinal, the Bruins and Tigers excited to be moving on to the championship and breathing sighs of relief to have survived, while Michigan and Utah were emotional seeing their seasons end, both surely wondering what could have been if not for being placed in such a brutal and deep semifinal full of talent.
After four rotations of incredibly high-flying, high-energy, high-octane gymnastics action- a new development in this new postseason format that has eliminated byes and shrunk the field from six teams per session to four- it was UCLA in first with a 197.6750, LSU right behind with a 197.5125, the Wolverines in third with a 197.2000, and Utah sitting in fourth with a disappointing 196.7250. As LSU head coach DD Breaux said following the meet in the press conference, “now when the meet is done, it’s truly done.
The defending national champion Bruins were up against it early, sitting in third after the first rotation- a new level of adversity for a team that has lost just one meet this season- putting up a lackluster vault performance in the opening rotation where Kyla Ross posted the only score of 9.9000 or higher with a 9.9500.
UCLA found their ‘Bruin Bubble’ again on the bars, soaring back into the lead after leadoff Margzetta Frazier, Nia Dennis, and Madison Kocian all received 9.9000s to electrify the huge legion of Bruin fans in Fort Worth. On the balance beam, Ross continued to shine for her team, scoring a 9.9000 only to be outdone by senior Katelyn Ohashi in the anchor spot putting up a 9.9250.
Ending on the floor exercise, retiring head coach Valorie Kondos Field‘s signature event, UCLA saw Felicia Hano score 9.9125, Ohashi go 9.9250, Gracie Kramer post a 9.9375, and Ross receive a 9.9500 to put up a massive 49.6125 rotation total on floor and close the meet.
While UCLA started from behind, no team struggled more in the first rotation then LSU. Starting on balance beam, an event many Tigers feel is there best, sophomore Christina Desiderio fell in the leadoff spot and only scoring a 9.1125, putting immediate pressure on the next five performers, many underclassmen, to hit and drop that low score. The Tigers responded however, all hitting their routines to culminate in senior stud Sarah Finnegan anchoring with a 9.9375.
Moving to floor, LSU was again under the gun from the get-go of the rotation, with a low landing on one of her tumbling passes from Desiderio, up second in the lineup, giving her a 9.6375, a score the team would again hope to drop. Two of the Tigers’ most powerful performers stepped up however, as Kennedi Edney soared to a 9.9125 and McKenna Kelley wrapped it up as the anchor with a 9.9250 to help LSU escape again.
After two near-disasters in the opening two rotations of the meet, the Tigers and their legion of home-crowd supporters in Texas came alive for the second half of the competition, with LSU putting up their best vault rotation of the year in rotation three when they needed it most. Sarah Edwards and Finnegan both scored 9.8875 setting up Edney in the anchor spot to receive a 9.9500 for a massive, stuck Yurchenko one-and-a-half, eliciting a huge roar from the hundreds of Tiger fans in attendance.
Ruby Harrold got things going on the bars in the fourth and final rotation for LSU, setting the tone early with a stick on her very difficult double-front dismount to earn a 9.900. Edney’s incredible competition continued, sticking her double layout dismount for a 9.9250 and allowing Finnegan to finish the meet for the Tigers with a 9.9500 and clinch the second spot in Saturday’s Final Four.
Only a little over three-tenths separated LSU and Michigan in an uber-competitive and close first semifinal and despite the disappointment of missing out on the team final, the Wolverines had tons to be proud of. Michigan saw incredible performances from senior leader Olivia Karas, scoring a 9.9000 on bars, 9.8750 on beam, and a 9.9250 on floor. Meanwhile, the future is still bright for head coach Bev Plocki as freshman Natalie Wojcik earned 9.9500 on beam and a 9.9000 on floor while Abby Brenner posted a 9.8750.
It was no doubt a disappointing and disheartening performance for Utah to end their season, scoring their lowest score of the season this afternoon largely due to a poor beam rotation. MyKayla Skinner performed some incredible gymnastics for the Utes however, starting with a 9.9375 on floor, then a 9.9250 on her Yurchenko double full vault, and scoring 9.9125 on her much-improved bars.
Skinner is also deciding whether or not to defer her senior year at Utah and come back later for her final season to return to elite and try to earn a spot on the US Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games team as an event specialist, a decision the junior said she would announce soon after nationals. In the final competition of her gymnastics career, senior Makenna Merrell-Giles scored 9.8750s on floor and bars and a 9.900 on her stuck Yurchenko one-and-a-half for the Red Rocks.Tags: 2019 Final Four Team Final, 2019 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, Abby Brenner, Bev Plocki, Big 10, Big Ten, Christina Desiderio, DD Breaux, Felicia Hano, Final Four Team Final, Gracie Kramer, Katelyn Ohashi, Kennedi Edney, Kyla Ross, LSU, LSU Tigers, Madison Kocian, MaKenna Merrell-Giles, Margzetta Frazier, McKenna Kelley, Michigan, Michigan Wolverines, MyKayla Skinner, Natalie Wojcik, NCAA Gymnastics, NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships, Nia Dennis, Olivia Karas, Pac 12, Ruby Harrold, Sarah Edwards, Sarah Finnegan, SEC, Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, UCLA, UCLA Bruins, Utah, Utah Utes, Valorie Kondos Field