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Vaulted but unbothered: Florida gymnastics topped by LSU at SEC Championships

A less than ideal rotation sequence ending on the Gators’ worst apparatus helped the Tigers take a crown.

Erin Long

As expected, last weekend’s SEC Championships were an exciting competition with upsets and breakout stars.

Unfortunately for revenge-minded Florida, the Gators had control throughout most of the meet, but gave it away on the final rotation — vault, the one that has been a bugaboo all year — and finished second to the LSU Tigers, 197.900 to 197.750.

The first surprise of the SEC Championships actually came in the afternoon session, in which Alabama had its best meet of the season, scoring a 197.350. The six-time national champions have had a rough season — most recently, the Crimson Tide were edged out in the NQS by Kentucky, and thus stuck in the afternoon session of the SEC Championships — but Alabama didn’t let this stop it, and the Tide hit all four events. Their competition was highlighted by a standout performance by sophomore Lexi Graber, who scored a career-high 39.65 in the all-around, including a 9.95 on beam. Graber, who came into the competition ranked 12th in the SEC in the all-around, set the mark high for the evening session to reach.

As there was so much going on in that evening session, I will try to recap the meet as a whole. If you are interested in specific athlete scores, check out the final scores. If you are interested in specific routines, feel free to sound off in the comments!

The Gators started the night strongly on bars, scoring a 49.425 for a solid rotation. Standouts in this rotation were Amelia Hundley and Savannah Schoenherr, scoring a pair of 9.9s for clean routines with solid dismounts. Megan Skaggs was the highest-scoring Gator on bars with a 9.925; her routine had a huge Tkachev with great technique (she always points her toes and has great counter rotation) and perfect handstands.

Meanwhile, LSU had a solid rotation on vault, but left the door open for the Gators by scoring a 49.375. Their highlights were a trio of 9.9s from Sarah Finnegan, Ruby Harrold, and McKenna Kelley.

And that first rotation pretty well separated Florida and LSU from the rest of the session, as Georgia struggled a bit on beam and put up a 49.05, with a 9.9 from Rachel Dickson, while on floor, Kentucky had a rough rotation (and had to count a fall) for a 48.625, with Mollie Korth scoring a 9.9.

The Gators took their lead to beam, where they put on a spectacular show of control and talent. Finally, Florida was back to its original lineup on the event, with Rachel Gowey coming back from resting an injury, and it showed.

Hundley started the rotation off with a 9.9 in the leadoff spot, and the rest of the Gators would not disappoint. Skaggs, Gowey, and Alyssa Baumann all scored nearly perfect 9.95s; these three athletes stand out in particular because they have excellent form and always show greater than 180-degree splits in their leaps with pointed toes. The Gators amassed a huge 49.625, a season-high, on beam, to push them farther into first place.

On bars, LSU also had a good rotation, scoring a 49.475, while Finnegan topped the bars standings (for the moment) with a 9.95. Georgia had a clean rotation on floor for a 49.3, with Dickson scoring a 9.925. Kentucky also had a clean rotation on vault to score a 49.125, but was not able to make up much ground after having to count the floor fall,on vault. Korth once again led the Wildcats with a 9.925 for a stuck Yurchenko 1.5.

The third rotation was unfortunately rougher than Florida would have desired. Skaggs led off the Gators’ turn on the floor with what seemed like it was going to be a beautiful routine, but in a completely uncharacteristic mistake almost sat down her last pass. I still have no idea how she didn’t literally sit down, but the deduction she sustained meant a score of 9.525, which would certainly be the score the Gators would want to drop.

Hundley followed up with a clean routine for a 9.85 to set the Gators back on track, but Nya Reed then had a small mistake when she had too much power on her double layout and had to step out of bounds. She scored a 9.75, which would usually be a droppable score for Florida, but it was unfortunate to have to count a lower score from an athlete that we know can definitely score higher.

And although Reed’s step-out meant the Gators would have to count a small mistake, their last three athletes rose to the challenge on floor. Alicia Boren scored a 9.925 for a hit routine with no obvious deductions, and Trinity Thomas and Baumann rounded out the rotation with a pair of 9.95s to give the Gators a final floor score of 49.425. It wasn’t the Gators’ best floor rotation for sure, with a couple of obvious mistakes, but it’s important to note that even with the mistakes this was still the third-highest floor score in the competition; floor, despite the errors, didn’t lose the Gators much ground in the overall title fight.

LSU had a good rotation on the beam and scored a 49.450. Finnegan matched the Gators’ high scores (and Graber from the first session) with a 9.95 on the apparatus. Georgia (vault) and Kentucky (bars) both had solid rotations, for 49.175 and 49.200, respectively, but were both well out of the running for the night’s top spot barring utter disaster for the Gators and Tigers.

The Gators would head to the vault to finish out the meet on what has been their weakest event this year with a 0.175 lead over LSU, while the Tigers headed to the floor — before a partisan crowd in New Orleans.

The angle that the SEC Network showed the vaults at was, uh, not optimal for seeing the size of landing hops or any pre-flight deductions, so I’m limited in my analysis here, but from my view, the Gators had a clean vault rotation, but were not able to stick their vaults the way they would need to in order to fend off LSU. They scored a 49.275 on the apparatus, which was second only to LSU in the event totals at this championships. Thomas’s huge clean Yurchenko 1.5 scored a 9.95 to top the Gators’ scores in the rotation.

And then LSU ended their competition in resounding fashion, turning in a 49.600 on floor, complete with a 10 for Finnegan, to the delight of the crowd. This pushed them ahead of the Gators, leaving Florida to settle for second despite a regular-season title and a win at LSU this year. Alabama’s 197.350 held for third place, while Georgia finished the evening session on bars, matching their season-high of 49.475 to finish in fourth with a 197.000. The rest of the standing saw Arkansas in fifth (196.475), Auburn in sixth, (196.375), Kentucky at a disappointing seventh (196.225), and Missouri rounding out the field in eighth (195.900).

In the all-around competition, Finnegan won with an impressive score of 39.80, Alabama’s Graber was the surprise in second with her 39.65, and Thomas placed third with a 39.575. LSU’s Kennedi Edney, Kentucky’s Korth, and Boren shared fourth with a score of 39.525.

And while the Gators did not win the title, four Gators did win shares of event titles.

Thomas beat out many athletes with higher NQS rankings to take the vault title (9.95); Korth of Kentucky was second (9.925), and seven athletes shared third (9.90). Unsurprisingly, Finnegan took the bars title (9.95); Skaggs and Lexie Priessman of LSU shared second (9.925). Eight athletes tied for the fourth place spot, including Hundley and Schoenherr (9.90).

Five athletes shared the beam title with a score of 9.95, including three Gators — Gowey, Baumann, and Skaggs — LSU’s Finnegan, and ‘Bama’s Graber. On floor, Finnegan took another title with a 10, Gators Thomas and Baumann shared second (9.95), and Boren was part of a five-way tie for fourth (9.925).

Florida also did well in the SEC’s yearly awards. Trinity Thomas was, to no one’s surprise, named SEC Freshman of the Year, and based on their scores at SEC Championships, Schoenherr was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and Thomas, Skaggs, Baumann, and Gowey were named to the All-SEC team! Add in senior Amanda Cheney being named to the SEC Gymnastics Community Service team for her impressive work with the community this year, and Florida had a total of six gymnasts honored by the SEC.

The NCAA’s regular-season All-Americans were also announced last week — first team is the top eight by NQS, second team is Nos. 9-16 — and included the following Gators: Thomas (first team: AA, UB, FX, second team: BB), Boren (second team: AA, FX), Skaggs (second team: UB), and Baumann (second team: BB).

Florida will enter the postseason as the nation’s No. 4 team, and will spend next weekend in Corvallis, Oregon for their regional competition, hosted by Oregon State. The event will be streamed, but the links are not yet available. The full regionals schedule and order is available here.

The Gators’ first competition will be a late one: Action gets underway on Friday, April 5 at 10 p.m. Eastern, with Florida competing against No. 16 Oregon State, No. 25 Stanford, and the winner of the No. 32 Iowa vs. No. 33 Arizona play-in meet on Thursday night. If the Gators place in the top two of this meet, they will advance to the regional final on Saturday at 10 p.m. Eastern, where the top two from each semifinal will compete against each other (the Corvallis Regional’s first semifinal features No. 5 Denver, No. 12 Boise State, No. 18 Washington, and No. 24 Southern Utah, and takes place Friday afternoon).

And then the top two from this regional final will advance to the National Championships in Fort Worth, Texas.

For your eyes this week, check out the routines from our top Gators scorers at SECs: