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Flawless: Florida gymnastics caps first unbeaten, untied SEC season with win at Georgia

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The Gators needed to win a rivalry matchup on the road to preserve their unbeaten record and make history. Led by Trinity Thomas and Alyssa Baumann, they did.

Erin Long

Given all that Florida gymnastics has accomplished in recent years, first under coach Rhonda Faehn and now under Jenny Rowland, it’s somewhat hard for the Gators to find special and/or unprecedented accolades to collect.

This 2020 team, though, seems bent on acquiring them anyway. After capturing a second straight SEC regular-season championship last week, the Gators went up to Georgia looking for the first undefeated SEC season in program history.

They got it. But we’ll get back to that.

The Georgia meet has always been a big meet for the Gators: Georgia has historically been one of the most dominant programs in the NCAA, and Georgia is, of course, one of Florida’s biggest rivals in all sports. Last year, this rivalry because even stronger because of family ties, as Florida gymnast Alyssa Baumann’s sister Rachel joined the Georgia GymDogs.

Last year’s Florida-Georgia meet was a huge disappointment for the Gators. The Gators lost narrowly at home, and Alyssa fell on beam, losing the sibling rivalry to her sister and playing a significant role in the team’s defeat.

Alyssa and the Gators were not going to let that happen again, even in a meet that was characterized by highs and lows.

The Gators started with a sluggish rotation on bars. Payton Richards led off with a 9.775 for a routine with an arched handstand and a not stuck dismount. Rachel Gowey (9.800), Amelia Hundley (9.825), and Megan Skaggs (9.875) put up their own good routines, but none had the polish and perfection that will be needed to hit postseason expectations, and being in position to count multiple scores under 9.85 is not where Florida will want to be through four bars routines.

But Savannah Schoenherr did her usual fine job and hit a nearly perfect routine ... to score a 9.85. I’ll be honest; I do not know what those deductions were for.

Fortunately for Florida, Trinity Thomas awaited in the anchor spot, and had her first explosive performance of what would be a historic night, hitting an excellent routine for a 9.975. This score will now replace her mistake from Missouri in her NQS score and she will be ranked in the top group of bars workers in the country once again.

The 49.325 that the Gators scored on bars was enough to put them ahead of Georgia on vault (49.275), but is nowhere near the 49.500+ that they will want to be scoring in post season. I didn’t expect the Gators to have a weakness on bars this season, but loose and short handstands and unstuck dismounts have been the theme for the last few weeks. Hopefully, those small errors can be sanded out between now and the postseason.

On vault, the Gators continued to show that any narrative about this being their weak event is merely an heirloom from a 2019 season when it was. Skaggs led off with a stuck Yurchenko full for a 9.875 and Alexander followed with another great full for a 9.85 — unfortunately, she couldn’t get that great stick she had last week, but she still had tons of height and amplitude. (And if you were following the meet life, you may have noticed that her score was only 0.05 higher than one of Georgia’s fulls that had a huge hop back.)

Alyssa Baumann got back into the lineup with her Yurchenko 1.5. She scored a 9.825 for a vault with a lock-legged landing, but she was able to beat her sister’s vault score of 9.8. Through two rotations, it was 1-0, Alyssa.

Schoenherr hit her 1.5 once again with a small hop, matching her career-high 9.9. She is getting more consistent as the season progresses and that is exactly what we want to see from our top vaulters. Thomas finally got the landing on her 1.5, and matched her career-high with a 9.95, making crystal clear that it would be a big all-around night for Thomas. In the closing spot, Richards had a similar vault to last week, landing a little bit short but showing good control, to score a 9.875.

After Georgia counted multiple scores in the 9.7s on bars, and Florida hit all of its routines on vault, the meet was the Gators’ to lose.

Yet the Gators’ floor rotation was not particularly strong. Gowey and Hundley led off with a pair of 9.875s for clean routines with stuck landings. Sydney Johnson-Scharpf, who has been particularly strong since she returned to the lineup, had trouble with the landing on her double Arabian and had some other messier landings to score a 9.775. Then, in the fourth position, Nya Reed returned to the lineup after an extended absence for illness. Unfortunately, she stepped out on her double layout and had trouble with some of her landings. She scored a 9.65, which seemed very low even with the step-out, but after seeing the routine, she seems to be hitting a good progress point for being back to full strength by postseason.

Stability came from the back end of the lineup, as usual: Thomas did what she does, churning out an excellent routine with all stuck landings, to score another 9.95. Baumann followed her with a solid routine that was perfect until her last pass when her chest was a little low. She scored a 9.9.

With a strong lead on Georgia, but a lower floor score than desired, the Gators headed over to their best event, the beam.

As usual, that’s where the Gators put on a show.

Richards led off with her normal solid routine: She hit her triple series and stuck her dismount to score a 9.875. Hundley, back in the beam lineup in the second spot after being pulled out for the last two weeks, showed that she had won the spot back with clean but hesitant work on the beam and a stuck dismount. But she scored a surprisingly low 9.775 for her work; my best explanation is that she was hit with a pause deduction for not working seamlessly through her routine.

Faced with the prospect of having to count that 9.775 with a fall, Florida’s athletes upped their game — as seems to be the case again and again for this team on beam.

First, Alyssa Baumann put an explanation point on her night with a stellar beam routine. She performed with poise and perfection to add another nearly perfect 9.975 to her collection, and to win another of the face-offs with her sister.

And then, to close out the meet, Gowey scored a 9.9 and Thomas and Clapper both followed with 9.95s. All three routines were excellent.

This beam team, whose 49.65 extended a streak of 49.5+ scores on the apparatus to a staggering six meets, really is the best in the country at what it does.

The Gators got the win, 197.800 to 196.50, in a meet that had both highlights and some small mistakes that led to lower scores than expected. Those mistakes kept the Gators from reaching a 198+ score on the road that they would really like to have in their NQS, but the result was still among the top 15 scores in the nation this year, regardless of venue.

The feat of a truly perfect SEC season is also a long time coming for the Gators. Since 1992, every SEC gymnastics-sponsoring school has met every other SEC women’s gymnastics program every year, and the closest the Gators had come to a full conference slate of Ws was in 2007, when a tie with Georgia left the Gators with a 5-0-1 mark in conference action.

And individually, some Gators shined especially bright.

Trinity Thomas scored a 39.825 in the all-around to match the historical high Florida all-around score set by Alaina Johnson, Bridget Sloan, and Alex McMurtry — and, unlike the scores put up by her predecessors, Thomas got her number in February, and in a hotly-contested rivalry meeting on the road. Johnson and McMurtry each put up their 39.825s in home finales in March 2014 and 2018, respectively, while Sloan dazzled in a road meet against an overmatched Missouri squad back in March 2014.

Yet another show-stopping performance from her should garner her a sixth consecutive nod as the SEC Gymnast of the Week, and an eighth such honor this year.

Beyond Thomas’s fantastic night, Alyssa Baumann matched her career-high (9.975) on beam to win the title, and she outscored her sister on all three of the events that they both competed, while Leah Clapper once again scored big in the anchor spot on beam (9.95) to show that last week was no fluke. To put Baumann’s excellence in perspective: If she had competed on bars and merely scored a 9.85, she would have had a 39.55 all-around score.

In the event standings: Thomas won the vault title (9.95), Georgia’s Rachel Lukacs was second (9.925), and Schoenherr was third (9.90); Thomas also won the bars title (9.975), Skaggs was second (9.875), and Schoenherr shared third with Georgia’s Megan Roberts (9.85); on beam, Alyssa Baumann picked up the win (9.975), while Clapper and Thomas shared second (9.95); Thomas picked up her third event title on floor (9.95), and Alyssa Baumann shared second with Georgia’s Sabrina Vega (9.90).

Thomas easily won the all-around by a margin of nearly four tenths of a point over Vega’s 39.450.

Next week, the Gators have an odd Saturday afternoon meet at Penn State at 4 p.m. Eastern. The Nittany Lions, while powerhouses in men’s gymnastics, are far from it on the women’s side, and so the Gators will mostly hope they can pick up another 198 score for their NQS. The meet will be streamed on BTN+ and I will make sure to share more information as the week progresses.

This week’s must-see routines are: Thomas (vault and bars), Baumann (beam), Clapper (beam), and Hundley (floor).