A regular-season SEC title that has only existed since 2017 isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things for the Florida Gators gymnastics team. That title, despite being a marker of success in maybe the nation’s toughest conference for women’s collegiate gymnastics, won’t have any bearing on their postseason seeding or their hopes of winning a fourth national title.
But the Gators appear to be steaming toward one regardless of that.
On Friday, the No. 2 Gators won their meet against the No. 12 Auburn Tigers in the O’Dome, with a score of 197.85 to Auburn’s 196.7 — leaving Florida as the lone unbeaten in the SEC, and the fate of the SEC regular season championship in the hands of the Gators.
Anticipation was high as the Gators headed to the vault to start the meet off. So far this season, vault has been their weak point: Before this week, only freshman Savannah Schoenherr had scored a 9.9 on the vault.
Mostly, those fears were misplaced on this night.
After a bit of lineup shuffling, junior Sierra Alexander led off on vault with a Yurchenko full (SV 9.95) and scored a 9.775 for nice vault with lots of amplitude, but a big hop on the landing. Junior Amelia Hundley also made her firs 2019 appearance in the vault lineup, and although she was throwing Yurchenko 1.5s in warm up she did her full (9.95 SV) in competition. Unfortunately, she didn’t have her best vault and due to a lot of knee buckling on her landing and some other form issues she scored only a 9.65.
Luckily, things would turn up after those first two routines. Freshman Nya Reed was third up — she competed a huge Yurchenko 1.5 (10 SV) with a hop forward for a 9.85 — and Florida’s last three competitors on the vault would show what this team is capable of on the apparatus when things click.
Freshman Savannah Schoenherr matched her career high with another 9.9 for a clean Yurchenko 1.5 (10 SV) with the smallest of hops on the landing. Senior Alicia Boren followed with her best vault of the season, a very clean Yurchenko 1.5 (10 SV) with a good landing for a 9.925. And despite freshman star (and reigning SEC Freshman of the Week) Trinity Thomas getting the pressure of anchoring due to the lineup shuffle, her huge Yurchenko 1.5 was excellent this week, with the only deduction being a small hop on the landing that left her with a 9.9 that was still a career high.
Florida’s 49.35 total on vault is the Gators’ highest on that apparatus for the season, and shows that the athletes are capable of the landings that they will want to see later on in the season. But Auburn was quite good on bars in its own right (49.375), and at the end of the first rotation, Auburn was leading by 0.025 points, the lowest margin in college gymnastics.
It wouldn’t last.
The Gators headed next to one of their best events, uneven bars, where they are currently ranked No. 1 nationally. Boren had a great routine to start things off, landing with a tiny hop to score a 9.85. Junior Rachel Gowey showed off her beautiful lines, but didn’t have her best handstands and dismount, leading to a 9.825. Hundley then had a great routine — showing off great air on her release, only taking a small shuffle on the dismount — and scored a 9.9.
Thomas was fourth up, and she competed what I saw as a perfect routine. I’m still not sure where the judges took a deduction: Her legs were completely glued together and her toes were pointed throughout, and she landed perfectly extended on her dismount. She was awarded a 9.95 for the routine. Junior Megan Skaggs then competed her routine, showing off long lines and pointed toes and one of the most beautiful Tkatchevs, she scored a 9.875. Schoenherr anchored the lineup knowing she had five hit routines in front of her, and used that freedom to debut (and stick!) her new double front half dismount for a 9.85.
For a clean but only occasionally spectacular bars rotation, the Gators scored a 49.425 — and with Auburn struggling on the vault, that was enough to pull well ahead of the Tigers through two rotations, 98.775 to 98.3.
The Gators would not look back, taking that lead to beam and consolidating it with six hit routines. Skaggs led off again with her clean routine, even making the wolf turn — reviled in much of the Gymternet — look good. Her foot popped off on her series, but she kept going without a bobble, ending with a stuck dismount with a slightly low chest for a 9.85. Hundley hit another beam routine with a small hop on her dismount for a 9.8. Boren continued her clean all-around night with a stuck dismount for a 9.9.
Gowey followed with a stunning routine: Her triple series was flawless and she stuck her dismount to cap off a performance that might have deserved better than the 9.9 it got. Thomas continued her superb night with a beautiful opening leap series; only a tiny slide on her double twist dismount really hurt her, as she posted a 9.875 to add to her all-around score. SEC Specialist of the Week Alyssa Baumann anchored the lineup again with her extremely difficult routine, sticking her landing (again!) for a 9.9.
After three rotations, Florida was still up nearly half a point, 148.2 to 147.75. And that let the Gators turn the floor into a spot for a victory lap.
Schoenherr opened up the rotation with her first floor routine for the Gators, showing off amazing toe point and leaps as well as strong tumbling to score a 9.85. Hundley competed next, showcasing a lot of power on her whip to double tuck, and her dance looked extra expressive this week; for it, she netted a 9.875 to finish her first all-around appearance of the year with a 39.225. Reed followed with her routine — one that is quickly becoming a crowd favorite. She hit all of her tumbling and scored another 9.925 to show why she is currently ranked No. 6 in the country on the floor
Boren’s high-flying routine came next, and she put on a show complete with another amazing stuck double tuck to end the routine. She scored a 9.95, and the crowd booed — they wanted the 10! Performing fifth, Thomas almost got them that perfect score, delighting the O’Dome with a hypnotizing routine that featured perfect body position on her double layout and earned an almost perfect 9.975 — her third of the year. Baumann anchored the lineup again, and while she is still holding back a double layout and showing a double tuck instead, hers was an excellent routine once again, meriting its 9.925.
The Gators’ floor total of 49.65 was their highest floor total of the year, and more than enough to extend their final margin of victory to more than a full point.
Florida gymnasts also swept all of the event titles, led by Thomas, who won the bars (9.95), floor (9.975), and all-around (39.70) crowns. Boren came in second in the all-around (39.625), won the vault (9.925), and shared the balance beam (9.90) with Baumann and Gowey.
And while Florida’s score this weekend was not in the 198s, I think that vault performance was promising, and that the Gators are ramping up to the post season and are going to peak at the right time.
Next week, the Gators will head to Tuscaloosa to compete against No. 8 Alabama in their third top-10 matchup of their season. The meet will start at 8:30 pm EST on Friday, February 15, and will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
Required viewing from last week is Boren’s vault (9.925), Schoenherr’s vault (9.9), Thomas’s bars (9.95), Gowey’s beam (9.9), Reed’s floor (9.925), and Thomas’s floor (9.975)