The No. 1 Cougars were defeated by No. 2 Baylor in the NCATA National Championship this weekend, but the team has plenty of reasons to celebrate.

The Azusa Pacific Acrobatics and Tumbling team fell to Baylor in the National Collegiate Acrobatics & Tumbling Association (NCATA) National Championship matchup Friday night. Prevailing over the Cougars with a final score of 279.790-276.465, the Bears claimed their sixth straight NCATA title in program history.

The loss was a disappointing finish to an unforgettable season as the Cougars valiantly overcame adversity from all fronts. Despite tragically losing program pioneer and 10-year Head Coach Colleen Kausrud in late August, along with being unable to practice due to COVID-19 restrictions, APU won all three of their regular-season meets. Their unexpected success earned them the No. 1 spot in the NCATA rankings, and they shined their way to their second championship appearance in program history.

The Cougars reached the championship by dominating Hawaii Pacific in the semifinal round. APU produced higher scores in all but two heats throughout the entire meet. Though the score was relatively close at halftime, outstanding individual performances like that of Jessica Gill’s 9.95 in the six-element tumbling pass and a sloppy HPU performance in the team event allowed APU to advance with a 273.165-260.400 victory.

Like they had all season, the Cougars remained audaciously focused in preparation for the title meet against the defending national champions the following evening.

“We have nothing to lose when we go out there on that mat,” said junior All-American Hannah Alonzo. “We just put it all out there and leave it in God’s hands.”

They did just that. Though Baylor tallied the higher total score in the compulsory, acro and pyramid events, they only outscored APU by 1.5 points throughout the first half. The match was tightly contested throughout as each team limited mistakes with unflinching resolve.

An APU hiccup in the open heat of the toss event cost them what would have likely been an opportunity for them to gain ground on Baylor. The tumbling event was close throughout, but Baylor lengthened their advantage, winning four heats to APU’s two. Both teams executed well in the final team event, one that APU desperately needed to win — but Baylor ultimately performed with better synchronization and more energy. They were crowned the victor after sweeping APU in all six events.

Though the results did not round off the way APU had hoped, they were still proud of the way they competed through all the adversity they faced this season.

“This team has surpassed any expectations that I could have ever set for it in the best way possible,” said All-American senior Beth McGee in her reflection on the team’s accomplishments this year. “As a leader, it was cool to see the team learn how to trust each other really quickly.” McGee posted a phenomenal 9.85 solo pass in the tumbling event alongside fellow seniors Jessica Gill (9.925) and Gabby Spencer (9.90).

First-year head coach Kara Willard, who has been involved in building the program since its inception in 2011, set the standard for her team’s determination this season.

“I really just stayed present in the moment. All I could do is control my attitude and effort and that’s what I always preach to my girls. But this year, that was more true than ever,” said Willard.

The Cougars will look to carry the momentum they built in only a few short months of competition this year into their preparation for next season. Willard will enter her second season as head coach and rely on the leadership of rising seniors like Alonzo and Jacie Van de Zilver. Together, APU acro and tumbling will look to honor the tradition that Kausrud established as they remain in hot pursuit of the program’s first national title.