Since technically the NCATA National Championships are a neutral site event, the public address announcer at the Ferrell Center didn’t perform his usual trick when reading out the scores. Typically, during the regular season, he’ll raise the inflection in his voice whenever Baylor has a higher score, giving away the outcome before he’s even done saying the number.
So, instead Baylor brought the energy all on its own.
The top-seeded Bears showed why they remain the immovable Egyptian pyramid in the sport of acrobatics and tumbling, easily dispatching eighth-seeded Gannon (Pa.) University, 279.200 to 263.390, in Thursday’s national quarterfinals.
It was the 28th straight victory for the four-time defending national champions, who have never lost at the NCATA Championships under head coach Felecia Mulkey.
Despite her team’s dominance, Mulkey can always find rough areas that can use buffing.
“We left some room for improvement, in the second half,” Mulkey said. “Which is different for us. Because usually we’re a second-half team. So, nothing terrible. I think we still did well. I’m proud of the girls. I’m glad we left a little room for improvement. Gives us something to fight for tomorrow. But overall, OK. Maybe an A-minus, right? We have some work to do tomorrow.”
Baylor (10-0) moves on to face fourth-seeded Quinnipiac (5-2) in Friday’s 7 p.m. national semifinal. Quinnipiac defeated fifth-seeded Fairmont State, 267.285 to 261.160, earlier on Thursday.
The other semfinal is slated for 5 p.m. Friday, and will pit second-seeded Oregon against third-seeded Azusa Pacific. The Ducks took down No. 7 Hawaii Pacific by 11 points, while Azusa claimed a nine-point win over Converse College.
Against Gannon (4-2), Baylor never dropped a single heat in powering to the win. And the Bears had fun doing it, looking relaxed and confident as they danced to songs from Destiny’s Child, Aqua and Camila Cabello in between stunts.
The Bears already had a comfortable six-point lead when they hit the tumbling event, one of their specialties. That’s where they really exploded.
In the duo pass, Kaylee Adams and Briana Harris shot across the mat in perfect sync for the Bears, outperforming Gannon’s Jocelyn Scott and Danielle Samuel. Baylor’s trio pass featured a slight stumble on the landing from Mary Berdis, but the Bears closed out strong.
Baylor got near-perfect runs from Hope Bravo (9.925) in the aerial pass, Adams (9.825) in the six-element pass, and diminutive but powerful Bailey Hollier (9.750) in the open pass. That allowed the Bears to expand their lead to 10 points entering the final team routine.
When Bravo stuck the landing on her pass, she shrugged her shoulders and flashed a sheepish smile at assistant coach Angela Ucci standing nearby.
“I felt it for sure. Running back towards the team and Coach Fee, after hugging Coach U (Ucci), I felt the energy,” Bravo said. “It just felt good. When I landed, I was like, ‘Yes, oh finally, a good landing.’”
That’s what the Bears have been waiting for from Bravo, Mulkey said.
“Those whips, I think she came out of the womb doing those whips,” Mulkey said. “There’s nobody in the country who can do them like her. They are flawless. Now, what we’ve been working on, and every deduction we’ve gotten this year on her pass, has been on her landing. So she’s been working really hard, and that was a pretty controlled landing. So the elation you saw from the team is that we’ve been waiting on that to come.”
The Bears killed it in the team routine as well, save for one slip-up on a back flip. But the synchronization on their tosses was precise, and by the time they closed with their traditional, slap-the-floor “Sic ‘em” chant, the home crowd responded with a knowing cheer of triumph.
Baylor also had a 9.90 in the pyramid heat of the compulsory round and the open heat of the pyramid round, as well as a 9.85 in the pyramid’s inversion heat.
“We’re never perfect. And that’s great about this team,” senior Ashley Echelberger said. “We know we have room for improvement, no matter how good we do. So I think since we have two more days and leaving that room for improvement, it’s great this early in the championship.”