By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Between Saturday morning's individual event finals and the championship final that night against Oregon, the Baylor acrobatics and tumbling team didn't spend the whole time in rest and recover.
Just a few hours before the biggest meet of the year, the Bears were still making a few last-minute changes and tweaks with the closing team event.
"We're just trying to grab as many tenths here and there as we can," coach Felecia Mulkey said. "And (Friday) night in our team meeting, I said, `Look, I can make some adjustments, but you have to want to do them and we have to decide as a group if we're going to make them, because it's got to be 100 percent buy-in.'''
The second-seeded Bears (9-1) proved they were all-in, dominating the team event and winning their third straight NCATA national championship by beating top-seeded Oregon (279.350-275.625) in a nip-and-tuck final at the Felix Event Center in Azusa, Calif.
"It was such a fun meeting, so exciting," said Mulkey, who has won every national championship in the seven-year history of the NCATA, claiming the first four titles at Oregon. "That's how you want a championship meet to be. As a coach, that's hard to say, because you just want to win. But, it was a fun championship meet, the lead switching back and forth and really coming down to the wire. The team had a blast, and that's what it's all about."
This was the slimmest margin of victory in Baylor's three-year run, and the Bears actually trailed by .15 points after the first four events. They won the compulsory and pyramid events, both by razor-thin margins, but Oregon (8-2) captured the acro and toss events and had the lead with only the tumbling and team event remaining.
An area of strength all season long, the six heats of tumbling swung the pendulum back in Baylor's favor as the Bears outscored the Ducks, 57.350-56.225. That gave them a 1.10-point lead going into the team event.
Lauren Sturm and Kiara Nowlin posted impressive scores of 9.875 and 9.85, respectively in the six-element and open tumbling pass, while the Nowlin teamed with Ashley Echelberger, Elise Manning and Mary Berdis to score a 9.90 in the quad heat.
After closing with its signature "Sic `em" at the end of the team event, Baylor erupted in celebration, before Oregon ever took to the mat.
"I was talking to one of the media guys here earlier, and he said, `It looked like you guys knew you had won?''' Mulkey said. "And I said, `Actually, that emotion wasn't that. That emotion was just feeling so good about what they had just accomplished. That's really what we kind of go for at the end. If the trophy doesn't matter, then you really win. Then, you accidentally get the trophy, anyway. It was just really emotional, and they worked so hard."
With Oregon having a few stumbles in its team event, including one tumbler landing off the mat, Baylor had a decisive edge, 97.65-94.90, setting off another celebration when the scores were officially announced.
"In our sport, it's a little bit different, because at the end of the day you have to give it up to the judges and the officials," Mulkey said. "You have officials in basketball, too, but you still put the ball through the hoop to score points. In this, you do everything you can to your highest level of execution, and then you wait for the officials to see what they see. But, even before Oregon went and they had their slips, we were really satisfied with our meet. So, that felt good."
Baylor ended the year on an eight-meet winning streak, running Mulkey's three-year record to 30-1.
"This one had so much emotion behind it," she said. "They've always worked hard, but they really, really made a commitment after the Gannon meet that they wanted to win, and they have been chasing it since then."
In addition to the NCATA national championship trophy, the Bears also claimed three All-America honors and a tournament-best five individual event national titles.
A senior from Oxnard, Calif., Nowlin was named Most Outstanding Player for the second time in three years and was joined on the All-America team by Sturm and Kaelyn Cowan.
"She was so deserving," Mulkey said of Nowlin, a three-time All-American who won the Most Outstanding Player honor two years ago as a sophomore. "I don't know when the NCATA is going to see another one like her."
Cowan is a senior from nearby Midway High School who earned All-America honors for the second straight year, while Sturm is a junior from McKinney, Texas, and a first-time All-American.
"If you could have seen (Sturm's) face when she got it, it was the cutest, sweetest thing," Mulkey said. "And we were all in tears when Kiara got the Most Outstanding Player. I'm so proud of all three All-Americans."
Nowlin added to her haul with three more individual event national titles, giving her a program-record 10 for her career. She registered a 9.90 to win the tumbling aerial pass for the third straight year, teamed with Berdis and Manning to win the trio pass heat with a 9.65 and was part of the seven-element acro team with Cowan, Ceara Smith and Allie Steele that had a winning score of 9.75.
Sturm and Kaylee Adams repeated in the tumbling duo heat with a 9.85, while Baylor won the pyramid heat as well with a score of 9.80.
"We won five heats, which was great," Mulkey said. "It's interesting how event finals work. You can qualify any time of the year. Well, some of those things, we haven't actually competed in months. So, a few of those things, we were kind of doing for the first time when we were out there. But, they did really well."
AZUSA, Calif. -- No. 2 Baylor acrobatics & tumbling (9-1) took down the No. 1 Oregon Ducks (8-2) on Saturday night at Felix Events Center to win the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA) finals for the third consecutive year.
The Bears started off the meet strong by winning the compulsories, 38.20-38.10, but after losing to acro event 29.10-28.95, they found themselves trailing the Ducks 67.20-67.15. In the pyramid event, the Bears edged the Ducks by a score of 29.25-28.95, to give themselves a 96.40-96.15 lead heading into halftime.
The Ducks took the toss event 28.35-28.00 to start the second half, putting them back on top by a score of 124.50-124.40 with just two events remaining. The Bears, however, retook the lead after a strong showing in the tumbling event, beating the Ducks 57.350-56.225. This put the score at 181.750-180.725 heading into the final team event. The Bears dominated the team event, winning 97.65-94.90 giving the Bears the 279.400-275.625 victory and their third consecutive NCATA national championship.
*The Bears won their third NCATA national championship and third in a row.
*Baylor won its final eight meets to end the season.
*Baylor is 30-1 under head coach Felecia Mulkey with three NCATA national titles in three seasons.
*Baylor is 9-0 under Mulkey in the NCATA national championship.
*The Bears won four of six events: compulsory, pyramid, tumbling, and team.
*The team of 15 Bears scored an impressive 9.90 in the pyramid heat of the compulsory event.
*The team of Kiara Nowlin, Ashley Echelberger, Elise Manning, and Mary Berdis scored a 9.90 in the quad heat of the tumbling event.
*Lauren Sturm posted an impressive 9.875 in the six-element heat of tumbling event.
*Kiara Nowlin scored a strong 9.85 in the open heat of the tumbling event.
*The team of Allie Alaman, Kaelyn Cowan, Jena Fisher, Mikea Knox, Hannah Schumacher, Miranda Girouard scored a 9.90 in the open heat of the pyramid event.
STAT OF THE DAY
*Mulkey has been the winning coach for all seven NCATA national championships since the sport started in 2011.
"I'm so proud of this team. Our girls come out today and wanted it. We made some adjustments this afternoon to grab some extra tenths, and really, that's what we've done all season. We've made adjustments all year to continuously improve and peak at the right time, and we did just that. Tonight, the girls were ready to do whatever it took to make it happen and they never doubted, even when Oregon won some events and took leads. When it was time for the team event I told them to leave it all on the floor and have no regrets. We were so determined and not to be denied." -- Head Coach Felecia Mulkey