Last Friday, the No. 2 Florida gymnastics team went to to No. 1 Oklahoma for a Friday night in meet in Norman that was easily the most anticipated matchup of the season so far — not just for the Gators, but for the whole of women’s gymnastics.
And they lost, yeah.
But that might matter less than how they performed.
Florida ultimately fell to the Sooners, 198.335 to 198.025, faltering on the vault and not quite making it up elsewhere over the rest of the night. While a loss is never easy to take, though, it is very important to remember that in NCAA gymnastics wins and losses don’t really matter (especially when they are not in conference) — and that the score Florida put up, both the Gators’ best of the year and the best by any road team all season, might be a powerful boost to this team.
Prior to the postseason, the most important thing in NCAA gymnastics is to get the best RQS (Regional Qualifying Score). There’s a complicated formula for RQS — which helps rank teams and sort them for postseason competition — but one of the most important pieces to it is scoring well on the road, where teams are competing before judges they may not have seen. (And, as or more importantly, in front of judges their school has not hired. College gymnastics! It’s complicated!)
What Florida did in putting up a titanic 198+ score on the road, then, is going to carry a lot of weight in their RQS when that begins to be tabulated. And the path to that score is worth retreading.
The Gators started on a high point with their bars rotation. Senior Alicia Boren started the rotation off with another solid bars routine, hitting her handstands and landing well with a small slide back for a 9.9. Junior Rachel Gowey followed with another hit routine, landing with a small hop for 9.875. Junior Amelia Hundley was up next and showed off her excellent handstand position; despite flying far from the bar on her dismount, she got her feet under her for the stick, and to pick up a 9.925 for the team.
SEC Gymnast of the Week Trinity Thomas then hit a perfect bars routine. What sets her apart her is how she glues her legs together and points her toes, essentially daring the judges to take any deductions. She stuck her double layout and received a 9.975 to match her career high; a 10 is not out of the realm of reason for Thomas on bars before the end of the year.
Freshman Savannah Schoenherr had another great routine and stuck her double tuck dismount with a little staggered foot separation for a 9.925. SEC Specialist of the Week Megan Skaggs anchored the lineup again showing perfect lines on her handstands to pick up another 9.95. And, promisingly, junior Maegan Chant competed in exhibition — i.e., performing a unscored routine that did not count toward Florida’s six per apparatus — and turned out a clean routine that makes her a good option should the Gators need to rest any of their big players in the coming weeks. With five 9.9+ scores counted for another huge score on bars, the Gators actually finished the rotation slightly ahead of Oklahoma. 49.675 to 49.575.
But if the Gators wanted a chance to beat the Sooners at home, they needed to clean up their vaults from the past few meets — and, mostly, they didn’t.
Senior Amanda Cheney started the lineup off with a 9.775 for a nice Yurchenko full (9.95 SV) with a big hop, followed by Chant with a Tzukahara full (10 SV) who scored a 9.825 for a good vault with a little pike and hop back; this guaranteed that Florida would need to count at least one score of 9.825 on vault.
The middle of the rotation was surprisingly good, though: Freshman Nya Reed, back in the lineup after a week off, showed a huge Yurchenko 1.5 (10 SV) that showed great amplitude and netted a career-high 9.875 despite a lunge on her landing, and Schoenherr, who had struggled on vault in the past few meets, competed her Yurchenko 1.5 (10 SV) with good form and a stuck landing, earning the first 9.9 the Gators have received on vault this season.
Boren then threw her big Yurchenko 1.5 (10 SV), but unfortunately didn’t have the control she usually does on the landing and had to take a few steps forward, producing a 9.65. And Thomas, anchoring the lineup with her Yurchenko 1.5 (10 SV), showed good height and form but tried to hold her landing too aggressively and had to take a step back, ultimately receiving a 9.775. (Junior Sierra Alexander competed a big Yurchenko full in exhibition.)
With Oklahoma matching its vault performance with a big bars rotation and Florida counting multiple scores in the 9.7s on vault, Oklahoma pulled ahead of Florida, 99.3 to 98.925, after two rotations.
And it would prove to be for good — though Florida certainly kept fighting.
The Gators headed to floor ready to make up some ground on their usually high scoring routines, but stumbled out of the gate. Freshman Sydney Johnson-Scharpf led off the lineup, but unfortunately had too much power on her first pass and came out of bounds with both of her feet scoring a 9.550, a score the Gators would definitely want to drop.
Working with that slim margin for error, the rest of the lineup did not disappoint.
Hundley went second and churned out a good hit routine for a 9.875. Reed then opened with a perfect double layout with good control, and cleanly hit the rest of the routine for a 9.925, keeping the distinction of scoring only 9.9+ on floor in her young collegiate career.
Boren opened with a big double layout and followed with clean twisting; she finished with an extremely high double tuck to score a 9.9. Thomas continued her night with a beautiful double layout with a great landing and excellent form in the air; her leaps were high and completely extended. She scored another big score: 9.95. And then junior Alyssa Baumann anchored the lineup in fine form again, opening with another perfectly stuck double tuck — some of us are still waiting on the double layout, Alyssa! — with great control, showing great extension on her leaps, and finishing with a stuck double pike. She scored a 9.95 for one of her best floor routines of her college career.
We then saw Schoenherr in exhibition with good leaps and twisting form, another good option for the lineup when some of the usual athletes are being rested midseason. (Or, perhaps, as a replacement for Johnson-Scharpf, should she continue to struggle.
And while Florida was lighting up on floor, Oklahoma had a rough beam rotation, having to count a big mistake, so the scores were very close going in to the final rotation: Oklahoma 148.5, Florida 148.425.
Florida headed to beam to finish up the meet, hoping to make up some ground and come out on top. This was a tall order as beam is one of the most unforgiving apparatus and Oklahoma was headed to the floor and guaranteed to hit big scores before a hospitable home crowd.
Skaggs led off with a very solid routine, even with a series that looked a little off she was able to hold on and not even wobble. She landed on her toes on the dismount but controlled it to score 9.875. Hundley followed with a solid routine with great rhythm and attack, and stuck her dismount for a career-high 9.925.
But then came a calamity the Gators probably had to avoid to spring an upset. Boren, who landed her front toss with one foot off the beam but saved it without a wobble, then made an uncharacteristic mistake by coming off the beam on her series. The rest of her routine was solid but she had to settle for a 9.25 that the Gators would definitely need to drop, and cost Florida a chance at a 9.9+ score they would need to keep up with the powerful Sooners.
Gowey then performed another solid routine, hitting the triple series that gave her a little trouble last week and holding on with a small lean out of it. The smallest slide on her dismount gave her a 9.9. Up fifth, Thomas showed virtually no errors, having excellent rhythm on her switch 1/2 to beat jump and on her one-handed back handspring to layout step out series. She took a small dismount hop that was the only deduction to end her night with a 9.925.
And Baumann anchored again, showing no signs of the mistake from last week. She attacked the beam with a beautiful series and perfect split positions on her leaps, and dismounted with a stuck 1.5 twist to match her career-high with a nearly perfect 9.975.
Freshman Leah Clapper then competed in exhibition showing a very solid hit with a stuck dismount, as she showed in the first meet of the season she will be able to step up and hit when the Gators need her.
In the end, though, Oklahoma posted a program-best score on floor — a stunning 49.825 that counted nothing lower than a 9.95 — to end the meet on top.
In this week’s final results, Trinity Thomas scored 39.625 to come in third in the all-around behind Sooners Olivia Trautman (39.725) and Anastasia Webb (39.65). Baumann shared the beam title with Oklahoma’s Maggie Nichols (9.95), while Sooners swept the other apparatus wins, with Nicole Lehrmann notably popping a 10 on bars. Oklahoma’s score of 198.325 is the best in the nation this year — and it came with the Sooners counting a 9.575, which suggests that something close to an astronomical 198.7 was within Oklahoma’s reach on the night.
Still, while any loss is somewhat hard to swallow, the Gators should be proud of their performances in Norman. Six Gators posted or matched career-high scores and the bars and beam totals were the highest road totals in program history. And, as has been the case all year, if and when the Gators figure out their vault lineup, they are going to be in excellent position to challenge for the national title: Even with a significantly lower vault score than the Gators would like to see they still were able to score a 198 on the road, and in their fourth meet of the season.
Thomas assessed Florida’s vault woes best in her post-meet interview: “I think we’re lacking landings on vault. Once we get those down, watch out.”
I couldn’t have said it better.
Tomorrow, the Gators will return home for their annual Link to Pink meet — which has a whole lot of initiatives around breast cancer awareness — on Friday, February 8. At 6:45 p.m., they will compete against No. 11 Auburn, the only other undefeated team in SEC conference play, and Florida coach Jenny Rowland’s previous employer. The meet will be broadcast on SEC Network.
If you missed this week’s meet, required watching will be Trinity Thomas’s bars (9.975), Savannah Schoenherr’s vault (9.90), Alyssa Baumann’s floor (9.95), and Baumann’s beam (9.975).