Florida’s gymnastics program has done some great things in recent years, from finally breaking through for a national championship or three-peating under Rhonda Faehn to maintaining its status as a title contender under Jenny Rowland.
What the Gators did on Friday, though, had not been done in decades.
Buoyed by a fantastic performance on floor and continued improvement on vault, the No. 2 Gators toppled No. 9 Alabama, 197.325 to 196.475, for their first win in a dual meet in Tuscaloosa since 1979.
And it didn’t even take a perfect performance to do it.
The meet started on bars, where Florida was ranked No. 1 nationally, and near perfection was expected. Unfortunately, this would prove to be their lowest uneven bars score of the season, and would leave the door open for the Crimson Tide to hold on to their winning streak.
Senior Alicia Boren started things off with a solid leadoff routine: She hit again, with a small hop on the dismount for a 9.825. Junior Amelia Hundley followed and scored a 9.875 for her routine, hitting her skills very cleanly this week and stuck her dismount cold.
The middle of the rotation proved to be more trouble.
With Rachel Gowey resting for the week — a healthy scratch, it would turn out — freshman Savannah Schoenherr was moved into the third spot. And while she did a textbook perfect straddled jaeger, Schoenherr also got stuck when standing on the bar to do her low to high transition, and nearly fell backwards off the bar as a result. She had to swing her arms around once but was able to keep herself on the bar and finish the rest of the routine well for a 9.775.
Then came SEC Gymnast of the Week Trinity Thomas, who came in having held the top spot in the nation on bars for more than a month. In an uncharacteristic move, Thomas went over on the first handstand, and although she covered it up like a veteran and barely missed a beat through the rest of a fantastic routine, including a stuck dismount, her 9.75 was both quite an impressive score for a routine with a big break and her first real miss in collegiate competition.
Florida would recover as it finished on bars — Megan Skaggs, competing fifth, showed off beautiful positions on her handstands and on the release for a 9.85, and Maegan Chant got the call to anchor and put together a clean routine with a few loose body positions for a 9.85 of her own — but in comparison to the peaks of the past few weeks, this was a more unimpressive bars rotation. Still, while the Gators are capable of much more than the 49.175 they earned, it is also important to note how both freshmen made mistakes but were able to keep going with no more issues, showing some mental toughness.
And it was far from a fatal rotation, as Alabama posted a 49.175 of its own on vault.
As the Gators headed to vault, the story was immediately shifted to the addition of SEC Specialist of the Week Alyssa Baumann in the anchor spot. Baumann had been seen training a 1.5 twisting Yurchenko (10 SV) in preseason but had never competed the vault. Last season Baumann competed a Yurchenko full (9.95 SV) in 4 meets for a career-high of 9.775. Her issues with that vault have always seemed to stem from having too much power.
Senior Amanda Cheney started off the rotation with a clean Yurchenko full (SV 9.95) with a hop for a 9.75. Freshmen Nya Reed and Schoenherr followed her with a pair of 9.85s for clean Yurchenko 1.5s (SV 10). It is good to see that both of them are becoming more consistently clean on those vaults.
Senior Boren then received a 9.825 for a clean vault in the air hampered by a hop on the landing. Thomas then erased any thought of her bars mistake with a huge Yurchenko 1.5 (10 SV) for a 9.9 where she was perfect in the air and took her only deductions on the landing — when she can find that landing, that will definitely be a 10-worthy vault.
The debut of Baumann’s 1.5Y finished the event; she got a lot of air and had a little bit of leg form issues on the way down. She had a small hop on the landing, but she also scored a career-high of 9.875 — showed, in her vault debut, that she can be a very useful option that should definitely stay in the lineup. Overall, it was a decent vault rotation, one that seems to be on pace with where the Gators should be at this point in the season: Florida is still struggling to find the clean landings that we will hope for in postseason competition, but the Gators seem to have found a set of solid 9.8+ vaults that do not have a lot of built-in deductions in the air, and their 49.3 was about where the floor should be set for their vault score going forward if they want to be national champions.
And on Friday night, that score was enough to help the the Gators take the lead, 98.475 to 98.35, as Alabama continued a night of troubles.
The Gators would make that night a nightmare for the Crimson Tide on floor, where they are ranked No. 1 in the country — and, unlike on bars, showed exactly why.
Schoenherr led off the floor lineup again with another clean routine with great form for a 9.825. Hundley followed with her own great routine to match her season-high with a 9.9.
Then came the 1-2-3 punch of Reed, Boren, and Thomas that is effectively the heart of the order for the Gators. All three had stunning routines: Reed showed off her huge double layout and double pike to score another 9.925, and both Boren and Thomas scored 9.975s for their nearly perfect routines with stuck tumbling passes and perfect leaps. (For Boren the 9.975 is a new career high.) And then Baumann rounded out the lineup with another excellent routine; while she’s still waiting to add the double layout, everything else is pretty much perfect, so her 9.95 was only a hint of what could come.
The 49.725 the Gators scored collectively is the second-highest total on floor in the country this year — topped only by Oklahoma’s floor rotation in their meet against the Gators, which had questionably inflated scoring — and the second-highest floor total in program history, tying a legendary Super Six rotation for the best score the Gators have received outside of Gainesville. After the third rotation, which saw Alabama count a 9.275 on beam, the Gators led the Crimson Tide by more than a full point, 148.2 to 147.025.
That didn’t make victory a certainty, though.
To finish up the meet, the Gators headed to beam. And though the rotation started very well with Skaggs matching her career-high of a 9.9 in the leadoff spot, the momentum wouldn’t hold, as Hundley had an uncharacteristic fall on her series. She hopped right back on the beam and finished very solidly, but the score of 9.175 was not one the Gators would want to count. Things did not immediately get better, either, as Boren fought through a shaky routine with a foot coming off on her front toss and a break at the hip on her series. Coming through with a clean dismount and ultimately avoiding fully coming off the apparatus allowed Boren to salvage a 9.575, but meant that Florida almost certainly needed to hit its final three routines to prevail.
Thankfully, Thomas was up next to reset the momentum, and had another great beam routine with a small hop on the landing for a 9.9. Baumann went fifth, and though she was slightly off on her series, she avoided completely breaking at the waist and scored a 9.875 for a routine that was otherwise very clean to finish her first three-event night since last year’s regional competition.
It would then fall on freshman Leah Clapper to compete in the anchor spot with Gowey resting. In a meet with five hits ahead of her or the outcome already decided, this would have been a very easy spot for Clapper to compete and experiment in; in this meet, a fall would have meant missing a golden opportunity to make history.
Clapper was not rattled. She showed another clean routine with a triple series and some unique low to the beam choreography, and stuck her dismount to score a 9.875 that gave the Gators the win.
The Gators tallied a 49.125 here to make their final total score 197.325, and got the rare win in what was a surprisingly hostile environment. (I don’t want to make any excuses, but it was evident throughout the broadcast that the Alabama fans were not being very respectful to the Gators on beam — and while booing may be common in football and basketball, this kind of behavior is definitely frowned upon in gymnastics.)
In this week’s final results, Thomas won the all-around (39.525), vault (9.9), and shared the floor title with Boren (9.975). Thomas’ vault win is her first on the event and with it she now has at least one win on all five events ... with almost a month left in the regular season of her freshman campaign.
If it wasn’t clear: Trinity Thomas is a star.
Florida’s win also gives the Gators a commanding lead in the race for the SEC’s regular-season title. The Gators are the lone unbeaten team left in the SEC at 4-0, and now have wins over 3-1 Alabama and Auburn, meaning that a win over No. 7 Georgia this Friday in the O’Dome would clinch the championship with one meet still to go.
That meet will be broadcast on SEC Network.
Required viewing from this week’s meet: Amelia Hundley’s bars (9.875), Trinity Thomas’s vault (9.9), Thomas’s and Alicia Boren’s floor routines (9.975), and Megan Skaggs’s beam routine (9.9).