Suni Lee and Jordan Chiles are now on different teams, competing in varsity gymnastics for Auburn and UCLA. On Thursday, when Lee needed a pep talk at the NCAA championships, she got it from her former Olympic teammate.
Lee felt a bit nervous in the tag team semifinals as the Tigers battled for a spot in Saturday’s tag team finals. Chiles, competing in the championships as an individual, reminded him to focus on having fun. That was all the Olympic all-around champion needed to hear.
Lee, of St. Paul, won the NCAA title on balance beam, finished second in the all-around and helped sixth-seeded Auburn advance to Saturday’s team final at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. . The Tigers will face Florida, Oklahoma and Utah for the tag team championship.
Although the Gophers did not advance to the tag team finals, their sixth-place finish is the best in program history. They finished third in the afternoon semifinal with a team score of 197.1125, behind the Sooners (198.1125) and Utah Red Rocks (197.7125). The top two teams from each semi-final qualified.
Gophers fifth-year senior Lexy Ramler finished tied for second on uneven bars, tied for fourth on balance beam and placed sixth in all-around when she last met. Gophers sophomore Mya Hooten is tied for fourth on floor exercise with Florida’s Lee and Leanne Wong. Hooten also tied for eighth on vault.
Freshman Lee scored a 9.9625 on beam to add her first NCAA title to the all-around gold, team silver and bars bronze she won at the Olympics in Tokyo last summer. Trinity Thomas of Florida scored a perfect 10.0 in her final event, the floor exercise, to pass Lee for the all-around championship. Thomas had a total score of 39.8125 to Lee’s 39.6750.
Referring to his conversation with Chiles, Lee said: “Jordan was like, ‘I can tell you’re stressed and you’re nervous and you’re putting pressure on yourself. She said, “Calm down, go out there and have fun. That’s what we’re here to do.
“I remembered that, and it took the pressure off. I went out there and just enjoyed it.”
Thomas’ masterful floor routine earned the only perfect score of 10 on Thursday. She also won the individual championships in floor exercise and bars. Utah’s Jaedyn Rucker won the vault title.
Gophers coach Jenny Hansen was thrilled with her team’s finish and Ramler’s dazzling end to a stellar career. Ramler, of St. Michael, Minnesota, set a new standard for Gophers gymnasts, leading the program to its first consecutive team appearances at the NCAA Championships. She recorded the highest scores in the program’s history in all-around, beam and bars.
“Lexy has taken us so far, in so many ways,” Hansen said. “She’s had an absolutely tremendous career.
“She came in hoping to elevate our program, and she got us to this place where now we’re seen as a team that deserves to be in the Nationals every year.”
The Gophers were in fourth place in the afternoon semifinal after three rotations. They finished strong on bars, Ramler being last. His glorious routine, punctuated by a blocked out, earned him a 9.95 to push the Gophers past Alabama.
Ramler said that during the routine she reflected on the arc of her Gophers career and the progression of the program.
“I almost felt like I was dreaming about what it would be like to do this teardown,” Ramler said. “When I succeeded, it was kind of like a career flashback. It was great to be able to end my career like that.”
Other Minnesotans with top-10 finishes include Utah’s Abby Paulson (beam, tied for fourth) and Grace McCallum (on floor, tied for seventh). Lee also tied for ninth on bars.
Auburn reached the tag team final for only the second time since 1993. “We’re really excited to finally accomplish what they set out to accomplish months and months ago,” the coach said. Forest Lake native Jeff Graba. “We felt capable of that. I’m really proud of the group.”
The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the meeting.