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Florida gymnastics posts best season opener score ever in rout of Auburn

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Florida’s bow to the 2021 season was a reminder of how high the Gators’ sights will be set.

@GatorsGym

The Florida Gators gymnastics squad had been champing at the bit to start the 2021 season ever since COVID-19 halted what was likely to be a postseason run at a potential fourth national championship in March 2020.

Last Friday, the Gators started their 2021 season with a performance that makes clear that possible national title is still on their minds — and very much possible — by notching their highest ever season-opening score in a walkover win at Auburn.

Trinity Thomas carried the team to a 197.500 team score and picked up another all-around title with her 39.750 individual tally, but she was one of the few Gators to start the evening as well as she ended it.

The Gators began the night with a rough rotation on the bars, where early-season nerves and jitters were evident for most routines. Megan Skaggs led off the lineup, taking a spot she usually hasn’t had, and scored a low 9.750 for a routine that was clean on the bars but flawed heavily on the dismount. Freshman Gabbie Gallentine had her college debut next and lost momentum and had to recast on the low bar, making her settle for a 9.300.

Much of the rest of Florida’s athletes would follow Skaggs’s lead for the rotation, struggling to stick their dismounts. Freshman Ellie Lazzari followed her and performed a clean routine on the bars, but a rough dismount, which gave her a 9.725 for her collegiate debut. The second half of the lineup fared better, while they were unable to crack a 9.900. Savannah Schoenherr and Thomas scored 9.825 and 9.875, respectively, while Leah Clapper scored a 9.875 for her bars debut. Seeing Clapper in the lineup was definitely the highlight here and she did very well.

I have all the faith in the world that the Gators will do better on this event at home, as they have the talent to go 9.9+ with most of their routines, but when even Thomas — a machine on bars — couldn’t generate a 9.9 on the apparatus, it’s easy to chalk up a bad rotation to a night of fairly bad luck.

If you had asked me before the season which event the Gators would struggle on, I would have said vault, as that has characteristically been the weak event for the Gators in recent years. That’s not what happened at Auburn, as the Gators were able to put the disappointment from bars behind them and have one of their best vault rotations in the last few seasons.

Payton Richards led off the lineup with a solid Yurchenko full (9.95 SV) — a new skill for her in collegiate competition, as she did the 1.5 twisting Yurchenko (10 SV) all last season — to score a solid 9.875. Lazzari and Skaggs then followed with a pair of nearly perfect fulls for 9.90s. Schoenherr was the first to compete a 1.5Y and received a 9.875 for her effort, which was slightly short and lacked some amplitude. Nya Reed was up in the fifth spot and competed one of her best 1.5Ys for a 9.9; in the past, she has had struggles controlling her landing, but that was no issue for her on Friday night.

And then, in the anchor spot, was Thomas, with the rest of the lineup had set her up to have a great score. She nailed her 1.5Y, performing the best I have ever seen her do, to score a 9.975 — and honestly, it seemed like the score was reflective of a judge not wanting to give a 10.0 this early in the year, because her vault looked flawless to my eyes.

The Gators’ 49.550 on vault is a huge score and a significant accomplishment, especially when half of the lineup was 9.95 start value vaults.

Competing floor at an away arena and without many fans because of COVID will never be as exciting as in a full O’Dome, but Jeremy James Miranda’s new choreography didn’t disappoint. Clapper led off for her Florida floor debut and scored a 9.70 thanks to a step out on her first pass, a good start for her in a lineup she isn’t usually in. Richards was in the second position with new routine construction that works much better for her; she scored a 9.850 for her efforts. Sydney Johnson-Scharpf was up in the third spot with a super engaging routine — if you want to watch one, this is my favorite — that saw her show fine control of her tumbling and add a 9.875 to the team score.

Alyssa Baumann struggled in the fourth lineup spot, over-rotating her double pike and falling out of bounds en route to a 9.225 that the Gators needed to drop. This put the pressure on Reed and Thomas to deliver — and did they ever! Reed performed a clean and dynamic routine for a 9.925, her second 9.9+ score in what could be a breakout season, and Thomas finished things out with a 9.95 in the final spot.

Having avoided counting a fall on the floor, the Gators headed to beam, where they finished the 2020 season No. 1, to round out the meet. Simply keeping things clean would have been more than enough to win on a night that showcased the gulf between Florida and Auburn — the Tigers didn’t score better than 49.100 on any apparatus despite counting just a single fall. What the Gators did instead stamped them as title contenders.

Richards led things off and showed why she is so solid in the role; she didn’t give a single flinch on her triple series, and cleanliness throughout merited a 9.875, completing a very successful night for her. Johnson-Scharpf hit her mark in the second spot to score a 9.9 with her somewhat unusual routine featuring a front tuck.

And from there, Florida took off. Freshman Lazzari had her chance to shine when she scored a 9.95 in the third spot — the best beam debut for any Gator in program history.

Clapper struggled a little more than usual with an uncharacteristic large balance check on her triple series for a 9.8, but it’s important to note that it was Clapper’s first time competing more than one event in a meet, and that two 9.8s or better is nothing to sneeze at. Baumann bounced back well from her rough floor routine to score a 9.925 on beam and Thomas finished things out with a 9.95 for another nearly perfect routine.

This gave the Gators a 49.6 beam score, which means the Gators have scored 49.5 or above in their last eight meets on the most treacherous apparatus in the sport.

Thomas picked up titles in the all-around (39.75), vault (9.975), and floor (9.95), and shared the beam title with Lazzari (9.95). Lazzari, Skaggs, and Reed all shared second on vault (9.9). Thomas and Clapper shared second on bars (9.875) behind Auburn’s Derrian Gobourne and Reed shared second with Gobourne on floor (9.925). Baumann was third on beam (9.925).

And after the rest of competition this weekend, the Gators will remain No. 1 over No. 2 Oklahoma, which scored a 197.45 in their first opening meet of the post-Maggie Nichols era.

Next week, the Gators will be at home competing against Georgia in their home opener. The meet will be broadcast in a tape-delayed format on ESPN2 on Sunday, Jan 17 at 6:30pm, but should also be streamed live on SEC Network+ for ESPN+ subscribers.