By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer
When head coach Felecia Mulkey arrived to the Baylor acrobatics and tumbling team in 2014, no one knew that within five years, the program would clinch five national championships.
Over the weekend at the NCATA National Championships, Mulkey’s team swept past No. 8 Gannon University (279.200 – 263.390) and No. 4 Quinnipiac (278.075-269.485) before a competitive matchup and win against No. 2 Oregon on Saturday night (278.400-271.725).
Baylor, who sits at 50-1 under Mulkey, has only been defeated by one team — Oregon — in late February of 2017. Throughout 26 matchups, the Bears have come out on top when it was needed most, defeating the Ducks in four national championships.
Mulkey said she thought the team would come up with the win, but also noted how emotional it was for her to say goodbye to seniors she’s worked with for the last four years.
“For me, it was really special. I’ve had it all day. I just know. You can tell by their demeanor in the morning, the eerie calm,” Mulkey said. “You can just always tell when they’re ready and when they turn the corner. It was Ashley [Echelberger’s] last pass quad, I cried. Kayla’s [Adams] pass quad, I cried. Bri [Harris] debut single pass today and she did great, but cried.”
Emotions were felt all around, as Oregon head coach Keenyn Won agreed, explaining a family dynamic in acro and tumbling.
“Obviously it’s not the results we wanted coming into this score-wise, but what we just talked about in the locker room is the emotional side of tonight is what we really came out to look for,” Won said. “We came together as a family and that’s something we’ve been working on as a program and a culture. That’s why I think it hurts so bad, because of how much we love each other and care for each other. Obviously sad we couldn’t pull it off for our seniors tonight.
The final championship meet was anything but easy. Oregon outscored Baylor in three meets, and into the half, trailed by less than a point.
In comparison, only one other team, Hawai’i Pacific, was less than a point away from tying the Bears this season in the first half (97-95-97.55).
Baylor created some breathing room in the tumbling event, averaging 9.546 on each meet. The duo pass, which scored a 9.600, got the team on their feet and screaming with the most excitement. With the additional help of a 9.900 element and a 9.825 open pass, the champions outscored Oregon in tumbling 57.275-54.700.
The team event also gave the Bears an edge as they outscored the Ducks by over three points.
Sophomore base Briana Harris said this championship made history thanks to the help of the seniors.
“It was definitely really emotional because I’m with [Adams] in the pass, we’ve done that all year,” Harris said. “I’ve been tumbling with [Echelberger] and cheering with Ash for forever. So I’ve known her for a few years. Bailey [Hollier], my top for the last two years. Seeing them go is really hard, but I’m glad they left all this history.”