This Friday night, the Florida Gators gymnastics team will open its season with a SEC match up against the No. 11 Missouri Tigers.
But they’ll be doing it without one of their key performers, after a Thursday injury suffered in training sent sophomore star Alyssa Baumann to Shands for precautionary reasons.
Baumann is reportedly “sore” and is expected to make a full recovery, but her absence on Friday night is likely to only accelerate the integration of a top-ranked recruiting class into head coach Jenny Rowland’s rotations.
Florida graduated four seniors from a surprisingly strong team that finished third at the Super Six in 2018, with Kennedy Baker, Grace McLaughlin, Alex McMurtry, and Rachel Slocum all departing after the season. Baker missed much of the 2018 season after suffering a career-ending injury, but she and McMurtry were both multi-time All-American performers, and McMurtry and Slocum contributed a combined six routines for the Gators in the postseason.
The Gators do have upperclassmen to lead them, with returning senior Alicia Boren likely to be Florida’s rock and junior powerhouses Rachel Gowey and Amelia Hundley likely to contribute multiple routines week in and week out.
Boren is a 14-time All-American, has three All-SEC (2016-2018) honors, is the reigning SEC floor champion, and came in fourth in the all-around at NCAA Championships in 2018. She brings 9.9+ scores on all four events, including at big Yurchenko 1.5 on vault — which carries the maximum 10 start value — and a crowd-pleasing floor routine with big tumbling (double layout). She was also named Florida’s Most Valuable Gymnast of the Year in 2018. She should be a consistent all-arounder, and has the potential to post 9.9s in all her routines.
Gowey is a three-time All-American who competed in all uneven bars and balance beam lineups in 2018; in 2019, we should expect to see her again on these events, with the possibility to see her compete on vault and floor as well. She brings a beautiful beam set with a triple series of tricky skills and a gorgeous gainer full dismount that she often sticks.
Hundley is a four-time All-American and was awarded Florida’s Most Consistent and Heart & Soul awards in 2018. Look for her on uneven bars, where she has a beautiful Maloney to Pak Salto connection, and on floor, where she brings a double layout and fun dancing. Hundley competed on all of the events last season, so she definitely will be a potential candidate for the all-around this year.
Baumann, though, is a significant loss: She was a freshman standout on beam and floor last year, and enters 2019 as the reigning SEC balance beam champion, a member of the 2018 SEC All-Freshman Team, and a two-time All-American. She is known best for her beam work, which merited scores as high as a 9.975 last season; her beam routine has a unique and challenging skill called an Onodi (half twisting back-handspring to walkover) and a roundoff 1.5 twist dismount. And while floor and beam are where Baumann contributed in 2018, a new Yurchenko 1.5 (10 SV) on vault this year could make her a threat to score big there every week — if she can return at full strength, that is.
Sophomore Megan Skaggs will also be expected to be a huge asset to the team with a very clean set of routines on all apparatuses. She was hampered by an ankle injury last season, so 2019 could be a breakout season, and we should expect to see her more heavily in the lineups this year.
The biggest story of Friday’s meet, though, will be the debut of the Gators’ highly anticipated freshman class, with U.S. Elite competitors Sydney Johnson-Sharpf, Leah Clapper, and Trinity Thomas, as well as Junior Olympics Level 10 Nationals competitors Nya Reed, Savannah Schoenherr, and Halley Taylor.
Of that six-athlete recruiting class, Thomas is the most highly-touted, as she just came off of a successful 2018 elite season where she competed at the Pan Am Championships (helping the U.S. to team gold by earning individual silver in the uneven bars and all-around), Tokyo World Cup (another all-around silver), and Senior U.S. Championships, where she placed eighth in the all-around, fourth in the uneven bars, and sixth on beam and floor. Thomas is expected to be a contributor on all events and could even be an all-around competitor in her freshman season.
But it would not be a huge surprise for all six members of that class to become contributors in some way — nor would it be a shock for all of them to perform on this evening, especially with Baumann’s injury likely opening up a few routines among the 24 Florida will have scored.
Rowland has room to experiment a bit, too, as Missouri is not a serious threat to upset the Gators at home. The Tigers scored 195.40 last week to win a quad meet against Arizona State, Minnesota, and Illinois-Chicago, but the Gators started their season ranked third in the Coaches poll behind UCLA and Oklahoma — the same ranking that they had at 2018’s close — and should be capable of scoring a 196 at home at minimum, even in a season-opening meet.
Tonight’s meet will set the tone for the Florida gymnastics season, will clear up some questions about who will see action in the lineups, and should provide an early indication of whether the Gators have enough talent to win and post big scores even without a key contributor.
Florida (0-0) vs. Missouri (1-0)
When: Friday, January 11, 2019 at 6:45 pm Eastern
Where: Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Gainesville, FL
TV: SEC Network (Commentary by Bart Conner and Kathy Johnson Clarke)
Live Stream: WatchESPN