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Raising the bars: Florida gymnastics notches best-ever bars total in win over Kentucky

The Gators continue to put on the performances of a championship contender.

Erin Long

A shaky start on vault had the No. 3 Florida Gators gymnastics team trailing through one rotation in their Friday matchup with Kentucky in the O’Dome.

But on the uneven bars, the Gators raised their game — and rewrote the school record book. Florida posted its highest-ever bars total — a staggering 49.725 — en route to their best total score of the season and a comfortable win over the Wildcats.

That first rotation on vault really did leave the door open not just for Kentucky to challenge the Gators, but potentially upset them. For the third week in a row, the Gators failed to score higher than a 9.875 on the apparatus.

This week, we saw some more modifications of the lineup, with freshman Nya Reed sitting out the meet. Sierra Alexander started the rotation off with her Yurchenko full (9.95 SV), scoring a 9.775 for a nice vault with good amplitude but a big hop back. Senior Amanda Cheney vaulted next, joining the vault lineup for the first time in two years, and turned in a pleasantly surprising clean Yurchenko full (9.95 SV) for a career-high 9.825.

But it was the Gators doing tougher vaults who faltered most on the night. Junior Maegan Chant finished her Tzukahara full (10 SV) with a hop for a 9.775. Freshman Savannah Schoenherr sat her Yurchenko 1.5 (10 SV) for a 9.325. SEC Freshman of the Week Trinity Thomas and senior Alicia Boren anchored the rotation with a pair of clean Yurchenko 1.5 (10 SV) vaults, but had to settle for 9.875 and 9.8 scores, respectively, in spots where Florida is likely expecting 9.9+ marks. The Gators totaled a modest 49.05 on the vault, leaving them behind Kentucky’s 49.225 after the first rotation.

So the Gators moved to bars hoping to make up several tenths on one of their stronger apparatus.

They would do more than that.

Fans likely knew that the rotation was going to be special when leadoff Boren scored a massive 9.95 (even getting a 10 from one of the judges) for an excellent routine capped off with a stuck double layout. The score was a career high for Boren, and her performance was good enough that SportsCenter included her routine as No. 3 in its Top 10 on Friday night.

Juniors Rachel Gowey and Amelia Hundley followed with hits to score 9.9 and 9.95, respectively and keep the momentum going for the Gators.

Then Thomas, currently ranked No. 1 in the country on bars, competed her high-flying routine, complete with an extremely difficult bar change release move called the Van Leeuwan where she adds a half turn to the more traditional toe-on release move (called a Shaposhnikova) seen in NCAA gymnastics. She received a 9.975 for the routine, getting a 10 from one judge.

Keeping the energy up, Schoenherr and sophomore Megan Skaggs followed with two more excellent routines for their own career highs — a 9.9 and a 9.95, respectively. This impressive rotation in which the Gators dropped a 9.9 made up almost an entire point and put them well ahead of Kentucky, 98.775 to 98.300, entering the third rotation.

After an incredible beam performance last week at Baton Rouge and the thrill of its blistering bars rotation, though, Florida would have been hard-pressed to match either rotation on beam this week. And while the Gators had a clean beam rotation, it wasn’t a particularly thrilling one.

Skaggs started the rotation showing off her flexibility and precision; she scored a 9.875. Hundley followed with another hit routine and a stuck dismount to match her career high with a 9.9. Boren then flowed through her routine, showing great rhythm and no pauses with great power on her series for a 9.85.

SEC Specialist of the Week Gowey followed, and had to take an unwanted balance check on her triple series, she scored a 9.8. Thomas then competed another almost perfect set and finished off with a double twist with perfect form for a 9.925. It would prove to be the only score better than 9.9 Florida could muster on beam, as anchor Alyssa Baumann unfortunately had to hop off the beam on her Onodi in a very uncharacteristic mistake. While the rest of her routine was beautiful, the massive deduction for her jump off the beam meant she scored a 9.325.

Still, the Gators were able to drop Baumann’s score, and moved into the next rotation with a comfortable lead over Kentucky, 148.125 to 147.55.

The final rotation on floor was a time for the Gators to perform for their home crowd, knowing that short of a disaster they had already secured the win. Freshman Sydney Johnson-Scharpf led off by reducing the Florida margin for error quite a bit: She performed her dance well, but had a little too much juice on the first pass and only scored a 9.6, leaving the remaining five gymnasts to hit routines or risk counting a fairly low score.

They would hit.

Hundley performed second, with her electric circus-themed routine; very clean tumbling this week helped her score a 9.9. Star senior Boren was drew roars during her tumbling, but had to settle for a 9.925, and remains on the hunt for a perfect 10. Freshman Thomas matched Boren with another 9.925, her huge tumbling carrying the day, and then Florida’s anchors — Baumann and Gowey — each clicking off 9.9s for solid hit routines. (Gowey’s score was a career high.)

This week’s final results found Thomas winning her first — of assuredly many — career all-around titles with a massive 39.7 score. She got there by also winning the bars title and beam title, and sharing the floor title with Boren. Florida’s poor vault rotation allowed Kentucky’s Katie Stuart to win the vault title, however.

And Florida will likely need to be its absolute sharpest if it is going to maintain its spotless record this week, when the Gators will travel to powerhouse Oklahoma for their hardest meet of the season. The meet, which now pits No. 1 and No. 2 in college gymnastics, will be broadcast on Fox College Sports at 7:45 pm Eastern.

After the first three meets of the season, though, it is easy to say that the Gators have found a fine form, competing so well on bars, beam, and floor that they can compete with the best in the country even without a strong vault rotation. If they can ultimately figure out their vault lineup, this team — which has that special spark we last saw as it won three straight national championships — may have the sport’s biggest hardware in its future.

If you missed the meet, consider checking out a replay to see Cheney’s (9.825) vault, Boren (9.95) and Thomas’s (9.975) bars, Skaggs’s beam (9.875), and Boren’s (9.925) floor. If you have extra time, check out the entire bars rotation: It was a stunner!

Highlights, however, were harder to find this week — relying on YouTube uploaders is forever a crapshoot — so here’s what I could scrounge up.