All Florida had to do to win its third consecutive SEC gymnastics title, and mark itself as the national championship favorite, was execute a typically excellent series of floor exercises.
But the nation's No. 1 team — and No. 2 floor exercise team — faltered, allowing Alabama to claim the 2014 SEC title in gymnastics, and leaving the Gators with the woulda-coulda-shoulda blues.
Florida scored a 197.700 and finished second behind Alabama (197.875) in Birmingham, on the same floor where the NCAA Championships will be held, thanks to that subpar floor routine. The Gators, who owned the nation's best average (49.488) and highest score this year (49.875, a full 0.150 points better than Utah's top floor score of 49.725) on floor coming into the weekend, and were second in Regional Qualifying Score to Utah, had two big misfires on floor. First, as the leadoff performer, Claire Boyce posted a 9.200, forcing Florida's final five gymnasts to perform with the knowledge that they needed to avoid faults to earn Florida the SEC title; then, final performer Bridgette Caquatto erred on her final tumbling pass, and earned a deduction that made her score a 9.750.
Boyce's score forced Florida to count Caquatto's, an atypically low score for the Gators to include, and earned the Gators a 49.350 on the floor, their first floor score under 49.400 since the season's first two meets. And it handed Alabama the title: After the Crimson Tide trailed Florida by just 0.125 entering the final rotation, they put up a 49.650 on the uneven bars, the meet's best mark on that apparatus, and made up the difference on the Gators and then some.
It wasn't all bad for Florida on Saturday night: Bridget Sloan won the SEC's all-around title for the second consecutive year with a 39.700, Florida's first back-to-back all-around titles since Melissa Miller's in 1988-98, and Kytra Hunter, who finished second to Sloan in the all-around with a 39.650, won the SEC title in balance beam with a collegiate-best 9.925, and shared the SEC title on floor with Alabama's Diandra Milliner and LSU's Llomincia Hall thanks to a 9.95.
And, in a vacuum, Florida finishing second in a competition involving the nation's No. 1, No. 2, No. 4, and No. 6 teams isn't exactly disheartening, especially given that there wasn't a national title on the line.
But Florida led through three rotations, had its preferred Olympic rotation by virtue of its No. 1 ranking, and could have thrown down a big number on the floor to win going away.
Instead, Florida's best event burned the Gators.
If that burns them as they prepare for NCAA competition, it might not be all bad.