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The Gators captured a second consecutive national title on Saturday, punctuated by Bridgette Caquatto's floor routine.

Saturday April 19, 2014Bridgey Comes Through in Clutch, Gators Repeat as National Champs

The Gators captured a second consecutive national title on Saturday, punctuated by Bridgette Caquatto's floor routine.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Back when Florida gymnastics coach Rhonda Faehn was recruiting the Caquatto sisters from Naperville, Ill., she realized what a special and different duo they were.

Mackenzie was the older and more celebrated elite-level gymnast of the two. She was also very matter-of-fact -- sometimes offering only one-word answers -- to Faehn's emails.

Younger sister Bridgette was wordier. She's thoughtful that way.

"She would send a whole page. 'Tell the girls on the team good luck and all this stuff,' " Faehn said. "All she thinks about is the team."

Fast forward to Saturday night here at the NCAA Championships. The Gators needed Bridgette more than ever. Bridgette, well, she was eager to contribute.

That's her. But there was some recent history to overcome and a deficit on the scoreboard.

Four weeks ago in the same building at the SEC Championships, Bridgette made a costly mistake when she stepped out of bounds on her floor routine. The Gators finished second to Alabama, not a direct result of Caquatto's error, but it didn't help.

The 20-year-old sophomore struggled once again during her floor routine at the Penn State Regional, falling on her final tumbling pass. She entered that mental stage Faehn describes as "delicate confidence."

"I know she felt like she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders when she stepped out of bounds -- in this arena -- just a month ago,'' Faehn said. "Then she had the mistake at regionals. She has been training so hard the last two weeks."

Of course, the stage was set for a dramatic finish Saturday when the Gators entered the final rotation losing to host Alabama by 0.15 points and second-place Oklahoma by 0.075.

The Crimson Tide took themselves out of the race with two falls on beam, including one by all-around champion Kim Jacob. Meanwhile, the Sooners nailed their final rotation on vault to finish with a 198.175, the highest score in the history of the NCAA Championships.

When Oklahoma's final score flashed, Bridget Sloan had just finished her floor routine with a score of 9.925. For the Gators to catch Oklahoma and clinch a share of their second consecutive national title, Kytra Hunter and Bridgette Caquatto would need to be superb.

Each needed to average at least a 9.950 to forge a tie.

"We like to make things interesting,'' quipped Sloan, who rebounded from a disappointing fall on beam Friday to post the best all-around score (39.725) on Saturday.

Hunter did her part, scoring a 9.950.

"I’ve gotten a couple of 10s, so I had to calm myself down and flash back to those routines and just how much fun I had,'' Hunter said of her mental approach. "I think that definitely triggered some energetic moves."

The final performance belonged to Caquatto. She didn't know what score she needed and neither did the Gators in the tension-filled arena.

All most knew was that the score was so close that Caquatto's floor routine could determine the national champion.

"We kept hitting our floor routines and selling them to the crowd,'' Caquatto said. "I had no idea what I needed going in, but the minute I came down and landed and they flashed the score, it was crazy. Everybody was jumping on me. It was exciting."

Caquatto got the 9.950 the Gators had to have. There was a tie. And then everyone had to wait as NCAA officials determined if there was a tiebreaker needed.

There had never been a tie for the national championship since the NCAA began to govern the national gymnastics championships in 1982.

"It was pure torture,'' Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler said.

The final ruling: co-national champs.

"For her to come out knowing that her last routine was the make-it-or-break-it routine, and for her to perform so beautifully and to help us secure that title, I couldn't ask for any more from her,'' Faehn said.

The Gators, a year after becoming only the fifth program to ever win a national title, had gone back-to-back.

They had the younger Caquatto -- her teammates call her Bridgey -- to thank for the final push up the scoreboard.

Caquatto was a role performer as a freshman, relegated to spectator for most of the season until a season-ending shoulder injury to Randy Stageberg in the postseason. Caquatto stepped in on floor and pulled off a strong routine at the NCAA Championships to help the Gators clinch the title.

And then she did it again Saturday.

"I knew Bridgey could do it,'' Sloan said. "I knew if she dug deep enough into her heart and saw a national championship ring, she would make it."

The soft-spoken Bridgey is a blend of quickness and power on the floor. Off it, she turns into the sweet girl next door.

"I'm just really happy I was able to do the best I could for the team,'' Caquatto said. "Individually, 'yeah, it's great I hit a good floor routine,' but a national championship and national championship ring doesn't get earned by one person. It's earned by everybody."

Sounds like something Caquatto might have written back to Faehn in one of those emails.


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