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Florida gymnastics remains undefeated with huge road score at Kentucky

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The Gators posted another colossal score and kept their record clean in the Bluegrass State.

Erin Long

Thanks to a fair bit of early-season chaos, Florida gymnastics headed to Lexington on Friday night to compete against the only other undefeated team in the SEC — No. 12 Kentucky. In college gymnastics, wins and losses are hardly ever mentioned, and only matter for things like a conference regular season title; scores are what the sport revolves around, and what shape the rest of the rankings and postseason seeding.

So half of the stakes on Friday were simple: Florida getting a win over Kentucky would keep its run for their second SEC regular season title in a row strong.

And the Gators got that.

The Gators also wanted to pick up a great road score to use in their National Qualifying Score (NQS) when postseason comes.

They got that, too, ultimately posting a 197.800 that should be among the nation’s best road scores for quite some while and gave them a margin of victory of more than a point over the Wildcats (196.600).

And Florida did that despite starting off a bit slowly on the bars. Freshman Payton Richards led off again with a clean routine for a 9.80 and senior Rachel Gowey followed with a 9.85. Both were great routines, but neither featured a stick on double layout dismounts. Senior Amelia Hundley was up in the third spot and hit a strong routine with another stick on her full twisting double tuck dismount — Hundley, as noted often, is a stick machine! She scored a 9.875.

There was a small shift in the lineup this week, as junior Megan Skaggs was in the fourth spot. She had a hop back on her double layout to score a 9.825. Sophomore Trinity Thomas was next and had an excellent routine on the bars with a slide back on her dismount to score a 9.925, a fine score but some distance from the 10 she earned a week ago. Sophomore Savannah Schoenherr was in the anchor spot for the first time this season — I think they are trying to prime her to get a 10 as well after her huge 9.975 last week — and had a very nice routine for a 9.9.

Still, with just two 9.9+ scores, the Gators finished the rotation with a team score of 49.375, a respectable score and one that put them well on the way to a road 197, but not exactly what the Gators expect on bars with a lineup that should reliably press for scores in the 49.5 range.

Senior Meagan Chant got a turn in exhibition with a nice routine, but one not strong enough to make the lineup.

On its second rotation, Florida headed to the vault for what remains its big test. Last season, vault was a bit inconsistent, and the Gators struggled at their first road meet this season to get the landings on vault. And on this night, sophomore vault and floor standout Nya Reed was out sick — leaving a potential 9.9 score on the bench.

Skaggs was up first for her second vault of the season. She set the tone with a technically excellent and fully stuck Yurchenko full, scoring a 9.90 out of a possible 9.95. This was Skaggs’s career-best for what is one of the best fulls that I have seen in NCAA gymnastics this season. Senior Sierra Alexander followed her with another full; she nearly got a stick of her own, but had to put one foot back for a 9.80.

The Gators finished the rotation with four 1.5 twisting Yurchenko vaults (all of which bring a 10 start value). Alyssa Baumann was up in the third spot and she got her vault all the way around with a hop forward (9.8); that’s another important progress point for Baumann who sat this vault the first week, but has strongly hit it the last two weeks. Schoenherr and Thomas scored a pair of 9.9s for their vaults that were very similar; clean in the air with a hop forward.

Richards anchored again and matched her career-high 9.925 for her 1.5 with a small hop forward and great form in the air.

And so, without a single 9.95+ score, the Gators scored a team score of 49.475 on vault, bettering their bars total. This was a big answer to the question of whether vault would hold the Gators back this season, and it pushed Florida’s national ranking on the apparatus to No. 5, giving them top-five rankings in all four events.

It is looking even more like Florida has full control of all four events this season.

Jazmyn Foberg, a redshirt sophomore who has dealt with significant injuries in her collegiate career, had a turn in exhibition for the Gators on vault. This was Foberg’s first routine since the end of the 2018 season. She looked just like she did at the end of that season with a great full with control on the landing and a small hop back. I think it’s possible we could see her in the lineup soon.

Next, the Gators headed over to floor, where the absence of Reed could be felt.

The rotation started out a little shaky with Richards stepping out on her double layout and scoring a 9.775, a score the Gators would want to drop. Gowey did her part to make that drop possible in the second spot to score a 9.85. (Gowey has been very strong on floor this season, as her new two-pass routine is very consistently producing 9.8+ scores.) Sophomore Sydney Johnson-Scharpf was back in the third sport after being out last week. She made a statement by adding her double Arabian first pass (E-level skill) and scoring her career-high (9.875).

Baumann had a stunning routine in the fourth spot. Her double tuck looks consistently solid; I hope we might see that double layout at some point. She scored a 9.925. Thomas did what she always does, and scored a 9.95 for an excellent routine with the only possible deduction being a small slide of the foot on her last pass. And, finally, Hundley anchored again this week with another good routine with clean landings (9.85).

The Gators’ 49.450 on floor was a little lower than they would have expected — and missing Reed probably cost them a 9.9+ that would’ve knocked out a 9.85 — but still a significant number to add to their final.

Sophomore Halley Taylor competed in exhibition and showed off a big full in as her opening pass.

With a comfortable lead over Kentucky — which had to count two scores in the 9.7s on balance beam — after three rotations, the Gators went to the beam in the familiar and comfortable position of having a win locked up barring total disaster and thus hoping to keep everything clean to get the highest score possible.

Hundley led off with a shakier routine than what is expected from her. She was off on her front aerial and had to take out the sissone and then add another leap series to make sure that she got all of her difficulty in — great quick thinking, sure, but only enough to score a 9.775. Johnson-Scharpf was in the lineup again, coming off of a huge 9.925 on her first collegiate beam routine last week, and competed a nearly identical routine for a 9.9. If she leaves Florida’s beam lineup at this point, it would be a surprise. Richards followed with another great routine and her own 9.9 to close the first half of the rotation.

Baumann, going fourth, competed a perfect routine on the beam; she took a step back on her dismount to score a 9.9, but served as a great example of why there needs to be more score separation in the sport. Baumann’s technique and extension on all of her skills is far superior to many other competitors, and she should be rewarded for it by judging that makes 9.9+ scores rarer and more precious.

Gowey, in the fifth spot, had a shakier routine than usual, and helped show the other side of the need for greater score separation. She had a big balance check after her leap series and a few other smaller balance checks. She scored a 9.85 — which, to be honest, seemed high, especially after Baumann’s more technically refined performance.

Of course, Florida was guaranteed of not counting a fall through five routines, making the sixth — Thomas anchored with another nearly perfect routine to score a 9.95 — one for scoring purposes only. (Giving Trinity Thomas license to chase big scores rather than just hit is helpful!)

The Gators easily won the meet, and in so doing became the only undefeated program in the SEC; their defeat of LSU last week and this week’s win over Kentucky knocked off the only other teams that had been undefeated in conference action through three weeks. Their 197.80 is also a great score to have on the road for NQS rankings; only Oklahoma, which popped a massive 198.25 at Alabama, has a better road score this year.

Thomas had another great night to win the all-around (39.725). Payton Richards was second with a score of 39.40.

In the events, Thomas took home the titles on bars (9.925), beam (9.95), and floor (9.95). Richards got her first event title on vault (9.925). Skaggs, Schoenherr, and Thomas shared second on vault (9.90). Schoenherr shared second on bars with Kentucky’s Cally Nixon (9.90). On beam, Baumann, Richards, and Johnson-Scharpf shared second (9.90). On floor, Baumann shared second with Kentucky’s Mollie Korth (9.925).

Next week, the Gators head back home for their first tri-meet in a while. The Gators will host No. 5 Denver and Iowa State in a big-time matchup at home. The meet will be on SEC+ at 6:45pm EST.

My must-watch routines from this week: Skaggs on vault, Schoenherr on bars, Thomas on beam, and Johnson-Scharpf on floor.