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In road win at Missouri, Florida gymnastics shows flaws worth working on

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The Gators recovered from a shaky start for a road win, but will need to clean things up in a hurry.

Gymnastics: U.S. Gymnastics Championships Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight week, a team of Florida Gators competed in the midst of frigid weather in Columbia, Missouri. But on Friday night, Florida’s gymnastics team — unlike their men’s basketball brethren a week prior — got a win at their first road meet, despite falling short of their full potential.

The No. 2 Gators got a fairly win against No. 19 Missouri on Friday, with a team score of 196.850 to the Tigers’ 195.600, but they showed some struggles on the early events to leave some questions of how consistent this team will be this season. While the Gators did not have to count any large errors in their team total, a slew of counting scores in the 9.7s kept the Gators from topping 197.

The problems started on the bars, where no Gators was able to break a 9.9, a surprise for an event that is usually one of the best for the Gators. Freshman Payton Richards led off the Gators with a strong routine for a 9.85, and though she had a few form errors (leg separation on her dismount and low to high release), as she cleans this up she will be a really strong bars worker. Seniors Rachel Gowey and Amelia Hundley followed with a pair of 9.775 for two routines with a few too many errors than what we expect from these seniors, ensuring that Florida would count at least one bars score of under 9.8.

But when sophomore Savannah Schoenherr competed another clean routine for a 9.85 (this week with the hop on the dismount I can see it) and junior Megan Skaggs, in the fifth spot this week, hit a great routine for a 9.875, it seemed like Florida could still post a very good bars score.

Except the unthinkable happened: Sophomore Trinity Thomas, Florida’s anchor, suffered the first fall of her collegiate career. Thomas went over on a handstand and wasn’t able to save it, forcing her to have to come off the bar. While she chalked back up and completed her routine, her score of 9.0750 was obviously disappointing, and ended up as the one Florida dropped from its total. After the first rotation, the Gators led the Tigers 49.125 to 48.650.

If the Gators want to be postseason contenders, they will not want to count scores in the 9.7s — and, ideally, they will not want to count scores below 9.85.

Then came a vault rotation that was a bit too reminiscent of last season. It started fairly well: Skaggs led off with a clean full for 9.80, and senior Sierra Alexander followed with her own clean full with a small step back for 9.75. In the third position, sophomore Nya Reed had another great 1.5Y vault with a small hop for a 9.875.

But then Schoenherr had a low 1.5 with a squatty landing for a 9.65. And Thomas and Richards finished the rotation with a 9.725 and 9.775, respectively, for 1.5Ys that couldn’t quite find their landing. The Gators will want to start drilling in those landings this week before they meet LSU. After two rotations, the Gators led 98.05 to Missouri’s 97.85 — a small margin that could have been the foundation for an upset.

Fortunately, the Gators were headed to floor to try to turn the meet around.

Sophomore Sydney Johnson-Scharpf led off the floor lineup again for a 9.775, She is finding the landings better this season — but the rest of Florida’s rotation showed why she will need to break 9.8 if she wants to stay in this lineup. Gowey followed with a very clean routine to match her career high of 9.90, while Hundley hit another great routine for a 9.85 with choreography that is quickly becoming a crowd favorite. Reed, too, did her job again, controlling her double layout and double pike, but having a little step on the combination pass to score a 9.85.

And then Florida’s stars shined. Thomas competed what I think is one of her best routines in college, flashing excellent control on all three passes and her leap series for a 9.95 — one that I, admittedly biased, would have given a 10. Junior Alyssa Baumann closed out the rotation with an excellent routine for a 9.925. She had great control on her double pike to finish the routine and the rotation solidly.

With no 9.7s on their ledger of counting scores on the floor, the Gators extended their lead heading to beam in the lead to more than eight-tenths of a point, at 147.525 to 146.700.

Still, the Gators needed to keep things clean on the beam to get the highest away meet score. And Hundley led off with a little balance check on her front aerial, breaking her usual series to the sissone. She had to add another series in on the fly to make sure she had a 10.0 start value, but hit the rest of the routine to score a 9.775. Then sophomore Leah Clapper was forced to make a big break at the waist on her series and then take another balance check on her leap series, settling for a 9.5 that put the pressure on the rest of the lineup to hit.

This pressure would not bust the Gators’ pipes. Richards mounted the beam next and kept everything clean (aside from an arm swing after her series) to do her part and score a 9.85. Baumann also had a small arm swing on her side aerial, but nailed the rest of her routine to add a 9.875 to the Gators’ score. Gowey again did her job, exhibiting another beautiful routine with a nailed triple series to score a 9.9. And then Thomas, shaky on her first two rotations of the night, continued an impressive rally on the latter two, hitting every skill on the beam but dismounting with a tiny slide to score a 9.925. The Gators were able to drop Clapper’s 9.5 and end the meet with a 196.850, more than a point ahead of Missouri’s final score.

Two Gators grabbed three event titles this week: Reed got her second vault title in a row, and Thomas won floor and beam.

Things get no easier for these Gators after this road win, however, and they will wantthey clean up any of the errors seen this week before next week, when they meet powerful LSU at home. This meet will be crucial for both teams’ quests for the regular season SEC title —- and a chance to each to show in a nationally-televised meet why it is a top team in the nation.

Next week’s meet takes place in the O’Connell Center at 7:15 p.m., and will be broadcast on ESPN2.

My must watch routines from this Missouri meet: Richards on bars, Reed on vault, Gowey on floor, Thomas on floor, and Baumann on beam.