The Florida gymnastics team is excellent this year, and poised to make noise in postseason competition at a minimum.
But Friday’s surprising home loss against Georgia, in a meet that was riddled with small mistakes that added up, is a reminder that the No. 3 Gators will still need to be on their game to contend for the national championship.
The Gators began the night on vault with a clean rotation, but none of the stuck landings that they would hope for.
In an exciting turn of events, thanks to Maegan Chant competing as its lead off, Florida would debut its first vault lineup of all 10.0 start values, becoming only the third team to do this since the Yurchenko full was devalued to a 9.95 (Oklahoma, Nebraska). This is a good thing for the Gators’ long-term projections, as it means Florida’s ceiling is higher on the event, but they must still execute to get scores nearing that start value, as Chant proved with a Tzukahara that wasn’t as controlled as she would have wanted. She scored a 9.775 for a vault with a pike down and a big wobble on the landing. Freshman Nya Reed, on the other hand, followed with a huge Yurchenko 1.5 — apparently, in warmups, it was so big that she flew off the end of the mat and hit her face — and showed good control in the air. Though she bent her knees and took a small step on the landing, Reed matched her career-high of 9.875.
Junior Alyssa Baumann, making just her second appearance on vault this year, competed her Yurchenko 1.5 again and received a 9.8 for a slightly low vault with a good landing. Freshman Savannah Schoenherr had another good Yurchenko 1.5 with a small hop on the landing for a 9.85. Senior Alicia Boren was the highlight of the rotation, scoring a 9.925 (matching her season high) for a big vault with good form in the air — but she, too, had a small hop on the landing. And, finally, SEC Freshman of the Week Trinity Thomas anchored the rotation with another beautiful Yurchenko 1.5, showing excellent form in the air ... and another hop on the landing, which relegated her to a 9.825.
Overall, it was a good rotation — but the Gators are still looking for their stuck landings, and are going to be stuck scoring sub-9.9s on vault until they find them. After the first rotation, Georgia led 49.3 to 49.275, but that small a deficit after Florida’s worst event looked far from troubling.
Boren led off again on bars with another clean routine, but continued the night’s trend with a small hop on the landing, and settled for a 9.85. Junior Amelia Hundley followed her and expertly covered up a little trouble on her Pak Salto, but stuck her dismount again for a 9.75. Schoenherr then had another great routine that scored a 9.9. Her technique on her releases and handstands really is exceptional.
Sophomore Megan Skaggs was up next: She performed a beautiful and clean routine capped off with another stuck double layout dismount to add a 9.925 to the Gators’ score, showing once again why she is ranked in the top 10 nationally on the bars. Thomas then had another almost perfect routine, with legs stuck together, height on all of her releases, and perfect toe point. That was good for a 9.975 — her third on bars this season, and a clear indicator that a 10 on bars for her is a matter of when, not if.
But with Rachel Gowey still resting, Chant anchored the lineup again, and scored just a 9.75 for a hit routine, thanks to a few loose body positions and a hop back on the dismount. The Gators finished the rotation slightly ahead of Georgia, 98.675 to 98.65, but a 49.400 score on bars is more like par than birdie for this lineup, even without Gowey.
And beam would prove to be a bogey at best, as the Gators would get off to a rough start that ultimately undid them.
Skaggs started off the rotation with a bit of a break at the waist on her series, almost coming off the beam. She was still able to stick the dismount, but had to settle for a 9.675, a score that Florida assuredly wanted to drop. Hundley made sure it would not immediately count by putting together one of the best routines of her career, refining a series that gave her trouble last week and sticking her dismount cold. She scored a 9.925 to match her career high, set earlier this season at Oklahoma, and can be a major asset to the Gators on beam if she can routinely click off 9.9s.
And when Boren and Thomas followed with two clean routines to score a pair of 9.9s, it seemed possible that Florida might yet be able to drop that Skaggs score. With those climbing numbers, it was expected that Baumann would get a huge score for her usually nearly perfect routine — but, unfortunately, she came off on her series in a freak mistake and had to settle for a 9.4. (For reference, a fall on beam results in a deduction of 0.5 points — so she would have had a 9.9 without it, something that suggests the rest of the routine was almost perfect.)
Freshman Leah Clapper was up in the anchor spot again, and under a lot of pressure: With the Gators already having to count a 9.675 from Skaggs, they would have been all but handed the meet to Georgia with another low score. Clapper delivered once again, though, following a strong showing at Alabama in a similar spot with a 9.825, and impressing as a freshman thriving in a position that would even be a challenge for seasoned competitors.
Still, due to that rough beam rotation, Georgia pulled well ahead of Florida through three rotations, 147.975 to 147.85, and the Gators headed to floor hoping to use their exceptional execution and generally high scores to secure the win.
It didn’t happen, with the Gym Dogs holding serve on beam as the Gators came up just short of the run of scores they needed.
Schoenherr led off with a perfect double pike, but had way too much power on her Rudi and lost control and flew back a few steps. She had to settle for a 9.75, a score that Florida would not want to count. (Meanwhile, Sydney Snead had just scored a 9.875 for Georgia.) Hundley then had another really good routine, with a high double tuck and clean landing on her other passes to score a 9.875 ... as Rachel Dickson scored a 9.85 for Georgia. The Gators would be counting on the next three athletes — Reed, Boren, and Thomas — to score 9.9+ to keep them in the fight. And they delivered: Both Reed and Boren scored 9.925 for clean routines with huge double layouts, and Thomas followed them with another 9.975 for an almost perfect routine. The consistency of those three athletes on this event is incredibly impressive, and all three remain ranked in the top 10 in the country.
But on the beam, Georgia had now scored 9.825 (Mikayla Magee), 9.875 (Marissa Oakley), and a stunning 9.925 (Rachel Baumann — Alyssa’s younger sister). Everything would come down to the last two routines.
SEC Specialist of the Week Sabrina Vega of Georgia would end their beam rotation with a huge 9.95, giving them a season high beam total of 49.475. With just Alyssa Baumann to go on floor, the Gators needed a 9.925 to tie the meet — a doable score for a good routine from the sophomore. While she got started with a great double tuck, though, she had a bobble on the landing of her second pass, and only scored a 9.825, securing the win for Georgia by a final count of 197.45 to 197.375.
It wasn’t the Gators’ best meet, and it ends the dream of an undefeated mark in SEC regular-season competiton, but it ensures they will be hungry to beat Georgia at the SEC Championships and perhaps in NCAA competition.
Thomas won her fourth all-around title (39.675), fourth bars title (9.975), and fifth floor title (9.975), and continues to burnish a sterling rep in her young collegiate career. Boren was second in the all-around (39.6) and won the vault title (9.925). Georgia’s Vega won the balance beam (9.95), where Hundley was the highest Gator scorer, sharing second with Rachel Baumann (9.925).
And that was just the first act of a busy weekend for Thomas, who traveled to Sarasota to participate in the USA Gymnastics National Team training camp after the meet. Thomas is the first athlete since fellow Gator Mackenzie Caquatto to participate in a National Team camp while also in active NCAA gymnastics competition.
Next week, the Gators head to Fayetteville, Arkansas to compete against No. 21 Arkansas. The meet, which may decide the SEC’s regular-season champion — Florida claims at least a share of the title with a victory — will start at 8 p.m. Eastern ... and will not be broadcast on the SEC Network.
It just means more, I guess?
Required viewing from this past week is Alicia Boren’s vault (9.925), Megan Skaggs’s (9.925) and Trinity Thomas’s (9.975) bars, Amelia Hundley’s beam (9.925), and Thomas’s floor (9.975).