No. 2 Oklahoma won the Big 12 Championships on Saturday, as expected. However, the real fight was between No. 25 Iowa State and No. 19 Missouri for second place.
Going into the final rotation, Oklahoma had a one-point lead and had yet to compete on floor, in which it was ranked No. 1 in the nation. Iowa State held a second-place lead of .150 over Missouri.
"It was really tight going into it," said coach Jay Ronayne. "Our last two competitors were [on beam] as the last Missouri competitor was vaulting. I was watching the scores and I knew we needed to score at least 9.800 or better with our last two performers.
"The scores were not easy to come by on beam today. We were fighting. I couldn't ask for anything more. When I saw it was coming down to a tie, it was gut-wrenching."
Although the meet ended in a tie for second for Iowa State, the sixth-year coach pointed out that his team may have run away with silver if not for a possible flaw in the judging system.
"A thing that is weird about [floor] is that scores tend to start low," Ronayne said. "Throughout the meet, they escalate a little bit. We were hoping they wouldn't do that, but they kind of did."
The Cyclones started out on floor — their strongest event this season — with a score of 48.725, which was low compared to their average of 48.918.
Ronayne said his team would have "absolutely" won second place outright if it was not the first team on floor.
Apart from a rough draw in rotation, the Cyclones had a stellar performance with season-highs in vault and bars, including a score of 9.950 from senior Celine Paulus.
Paulus earned the Big 12 vault title, which was the least expected after her first two scores of 9.075 and 9.675 this season.
"With every meet, I gain more confidence," Paulus said. "[I] know that I am going to be able to stick my vault no matter what. I just know I'm going to hit."
In vault, Paulus' career-tying 9.950 was accompanied by career-tying scores of their own in Megan McDonald, Caitlin Brown and Michelle Browning with scores of 9.800, 9.825 and 9.875. Along with Michelle Shealy's 9.800, the Cyclones scored the 18th-highest team vault score in ISU history with 49.250.
The team also scored its season-high on bars with 49.200 after Hailey Johnson and Henrietta Green performed their career bests. Johnson's career best changed from 9.700 to 9.825 while Green moved up from 9.750 to 9.875.
"We knew that this was a big meet for us," Browning said. "We've really been able to build off of our confidence from our last few meets. We went into it with the right frame of mind."
The strong showing Saturday will be on the selection committee's mind when setting up the regional matchups.
Iowa State and the rest of the gymnastics squads across the country will wait in anticipation for Monday, the first-ever selection show for gymnastics. The show will begin at 2 p.m. on ncaa.com.