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Beaming: Florida gymnastics rolls past Alabama to second straight SEC title

The Gators accomplished their goals on Friday night in the O’Dome.

Erin Long

Florida’s gymnastics team entered its Friday meet with Alabama with plenty on the line: A win over the Crimson Tide, a second straight SEC regular-season title, and a chance to further burnish their season scoring.

The Gators did exactly what they needed to do to collect on all of those things, downing Alabama with another 198+ score and claiming the SEC’s crown.

Since early last season, the storyline around the Gators has been that they can win big meets if they can just sort out vault. If Friday is any indication, it seems like the Gators are hitting their groove on the apparatus.

Jazmyn Foberg and Megan Skaggs started the meet with a pair of 9.85s for clean, but not perfect, Yurchenko fulls. In the third position Sierra Alexander, who had an excellent stuck vault last week, performed the best vault of her career. This Yurchenko full had excellent height, distance, and straight legs. Alexander flared out her vault to find a perfect landing and was awarded the first perfect score of her career, a 9.95 that matches the maximum start value for the Yurchenko full.

While it’s not a perfect 10.0, Alexander’s score is the first perfect score for the Gators on vault in the last two seasons, and an indication that she has her execution down.

Savannah Schoenherr then competed her best vault of the season; her 1.5 had good height and distance but she had a small step and a little knee bend to score a 9.9. Like last season, Schoenherr’s vault is getting better throughout the season and I expect her to be sticking in the postseason. Trinity Thomas also scored a 9.9 for a vault with perfect form in the air but a decent hop on the landing. Payton Richards anchored the rotation with a slightly under-rotated 1.5 that required her to take two small steps back, and earned an 9.85 for it.

The Gators finished the rotation with a 49.45, which is a good score on vault, especially for a rotation that featured three 9.95 start value vaults. (Florida’s maximum possible score on vault is thus 49.85, rather than a higher number.) They will want to take this and built as they head for the postseason. Meanwhile, the Tide had scored a healthy 49.35 on bars, which was highlighted by a 9.95 from freshman Makarri Doggette.

As the Gators headed to bars and the Crimson Tide headed to vault, the Gators needed to put up some big scores in order to pull away. They didn’t do exactly that.

Florida had a fine but not exceptional bars rotation, with most of their scores being stuck in the 9.8s due to missed handstands and no stuck landings. Richards led off with a 9.825 and Rachel Gowey, Schoenherr, and Skaggs all scored 9.85s. Amelia Hundley and Thomas scored 9.9 for their very good, but not perfect routines. Hundley was slightly low on one handstand and stuck her dismount with staggered feet, and Thomas had a hop back on her dismount.

In meets like Friday’s, Florida can get away with being less sharp on on rotation because it will inevitably compensate on another. But if they want to compete for an NCAA title against near-perfect Oklahoma, the Gators will need to be as sharp as can be, which means sorting out those stuck landings will be a priority from now until the NCAA Championships. And the Gators seem capable of this — they seem to be starting to put together some postseason-worthy vault rotations — so we need to see the bars routines round into form as a whole.

All told, Florida scored a respectable 49.35 to match Alabama’s score on the event and keep its lead through two rotations, as Alabama scored a 49.325 on vault in a rotation where Lexi Graber stuck her 1.5 to score a 9.975.

But at this point, Alabama individuals would be winning both the vault and the bars title — a clear sign of which team was underperforming and which was closer to maxing out.

Fortunately for the Gators, their superb, No. 1-ranked team of beam routines was up next. Things started off very clean with a great routine to score a 9.9 from Richards. But things were a little touch and go. In the second position, sophomore Sydney Johnson-Scharpf had a balance check on her front tuck and then came off the beam on her series. Her 9.3 would not be a usable score, and the pressure was on the rest of the lineup.

Who better to have in the pressure spot than two-time reigning SEC champion Alyssa Baumann? Baumann’s routine was excellent and precise, and she scored a 9.9 to set the Gators back on track. Then Gowey and Thomas, each among the top five in the country on the beam, scored a pair of 9.95s for nearly perfect routines. The pressure was now on sophomore Leah Clapper in the anchor spot to erase the early rotation fall — and she delivered in spades. Clapper had the routine of her life, nailing her triple series and her side aerial to full dismount, and scored a 9.975, career-high.

With a score of 49.675 on the beam, the Gators matched their school record that was set in 2018 at the meet against Oklahoma and matched this season at the LSU meet, and extended a staggering streak of consecutive excellent beam rotations.

The Crimson Tide did very well on floor to score a 49.425, with Graber and Shea Mahoney providing the highlights of the rotation and each earning a score of 9.925. But another titanic beam score left the Gators one hit floor rotation stood from their regular-season SEC championship.

Richards hit her routine for a 9.85 to get everything started. Her tumbling is looking stronger every week. Then things got a little confusing when it came to scoring. The next four Gators, Gowey, Hundley, Johnson-Scharpf, and Thomas all scored 9.9s for their routines. These routines looked vastly different to many viewers. Gowey, who normally has a beautiful routine, had trouble landing her second pass and had to take a big bounce back. Hundley and Johnson-Scharpf had well-landed routines, with a few form errors. Thomas had a perfect routine before she opened up a little early and had to take a step forward on her double pike. Giving all of those routines a 9.9 did not seem to properly rank or rate the routines — but it did give Florida five hits, and assurance that its sixth routine would not matter.

So it was neat that Baumann closed out the rotation with a huge 9.975 for a beautiful routine with one of the most perfect double tucks that I have ever seen.

The Gators ended up scoring a 198.05 to beat Alabama’s 197.45.

This win gave the Gators the SEC regular-season title, keeps them as the only undefeated team in the SEC, and adds that 198 they needed to their NQS score.

I’ll be objective and say that some of the scoring in this meet seemed high. But, regardless of the scoring, the Gators performed great routines and continued to display why they are national title contenders.

In the all-around, Thomas edged out Graber to win with a 39.65 to Graber’s 39.625. Richards was in third with her 39.425.

In the individual event rankings: Graber (9.975) won the vault title, with Alexander’s perfect yurchenko full in second (9.95), and Thomas and Schoenherr shared third; on bars, Doggette won the title (9.95), and Hundley and Thomas shared second (9.9); on beam, Clapper won her first title of her career (9.975) and Gowey and Thomas shared second (9.95); on floor, Baumann won another title (9.975) with Alabama’s Mahoney and Graber sharing second (9.925).

Next Friday, the Gators head on the road to Georgia for the last SEC meet of the season. This will be a chance for the Gators end the season undefeated in the SEC and a chance for Alyssa Baumann to beat her sister Rachel in this year’s Baumann beam showdown. The meet will be back at its typical time, 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.

My must-watch routines this week? Alexander on vault, Hundley on bars, Clapper on beam, and Baumann on floor.