Story by Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer, Video by Elisabeth Tharp | Broadcast Sports Director
One step closer to their fifth back-to-back NCATA National Championship, No. 1 seed Baylor acrobatics and tumbling brought home their 29th consecutive win after defeating No. 8 seed Gannon University 279.20-253.39 in the tournament quarterfinals.
The Bears began the tournament in the lead with a compulsory score of 38.15, outscoring Gannon by over two points.
Baylor’s lowest score came in the compulsory tumbling heat at 8.95, but despite that hiccup, the team averaged a 9.63 score, including a 9.9 in the pyramid open and an impressive 9.925 aerial pass from senior top Hope Bravo.
The whole team came off the sideline jumping as Bravo erupted in a giant smile, knowing she hit her landing perfectly — something she’s struggled with for years.
“I felt it for sure,” Bravo said. “Running back towards the team and Coach [Felecia Mulkey] and after hugging Coach [Angela] Ucci, I just felt the energy and it just felt good when I landed. I was like, ‘Yes, oh finally a good landing.’ It’s been a lot of fun. I love the team. It’s a lot of support and they’re behind us when we’re tumbling.”
The Bears improved to 4-0 against the Lady Knights, who Baylor knocked out twice before in the NCATA Championships.
Under head coach Felecia Mulkey, the team improved to 51-1. Yet, the Bears’ seventh-consecutive meet above 280.00 points was snapped with a 279.20 total. Even with another win under the team’s belt, Mulkey says there’s room for growth.
“We left some room for improvement in the second half, which is different for us because usually we’re a second half team, so nothing terrible. I’m proud of the girls,” Mulkey said. “We left a little improvement; it gives us something to fight for tomorrow. Overall, OK. Maybe an A minus, we have some work to do tomorrow.”
The NCATA National Championship was held in Waco for the third time in program history, and the first since 2016. This sense of home advantage was something felt by the team, junior top Ashley Echelberger said.
“It was definitely amazing,” Echelberger said. “We saw parents in the crowd starting cheers. It means a lot to us on the sidelines because we get into as well. I definitely think as a team we brought a lot of energy to it too, and the fact we have room for improvement this early in the championship is amazing. I can’t wait to take on these next two days.”
Baylor advances to face No. 4 seed Quinnipiac at 6 p.m. on Friday for the semifinal meet.