For Florida gymnastics, the 2021 season has been one focused on the pursuit of a fourth national title — one that may well have been the Gators’ to lose last spring.
But in the wake of social unrest nationally — and some pointed criticisms from former Florida gymnasts about the program itself — it has also been an opportunity to show that the Florida program is strengthened by its diversity. And last Friday, the Gators made that message of equality unmissable by hosting the very first Pride Meet in the SEC. Athletes wore rainbow-colored hair ribbons and COVID-protective masks, and custom rainbow t-shirts reading “more than entertainment.” Perhaps most visibly, junior Savannah Schoenherr, who is openly gay, was announced during pre-meet introductions while wrapped in a rainbow “EQUALITY” flag.
.@GatorsGym had their first Pride Meet ️ last night!— Dr. Sam, PhD (@samisadancer) January 30, 2021
This was the FIRST SEC pride meet EVER. In the south, it can be a risk to speak up for what you believe in and I am so proud of this team for taking a stand. Here's to hoping it's bigger and better next year!
Love is love pic.twitter.com/Dqab7tSNuN
Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also Florida’s best showing of the year, as the Gators put up a season-best score while dusting an uncompetitive Missouri outfit, 197.85-194.8.
The performance highlights of the meet were freshman Ellie Lazzari putting up three clutch routines after mistakes, Trinity Thomas putting together another top all-around performance, and Megan Skaggs hitting her second all-around performance in a row.
The No. 1 Gators got started on vault with Payton Richards, who under-rotated her Yurchenko full and had to settle for a 9.75. Richards was competing a 1.5 Yurchenko all last season, so hopefully we will see her upgrade soon to increase her scores. Lazzari was up second with a strong full with a small hop back for a 9.85; she was also training the 1.5 in preseason, so I wonder if we will see an upgrade from her at some point. Skaggs started off her all-around performance with a 9.875 for a clean full, providing yet more evidence of remarkable consistency.
Juniors Schoenherr and Nya Reed hit their 1.5Ys this week, but couldn’t get the stick, scoring 9.85 and 9.875, respectively. By contrast, Thomas nearly stuck her 1.5Y again this week, with a small slide only dinging her score to a 9.925 and solidifying her place as one of the top vaulters this season.
The Gators headed to bars second, and found massive success on an apparatus that had been giving them trouble early in the season. Richards led off with a career-high 9.875 for a hit routine with a small hop on the landing. Freshman Gabbie Gallentine then had the routine we have been expecting from her — I have mentioned repeatedly to keep an eye on her! – in which beautiful handstands and glued legs on her transitions and dismount as well as a stuck landing allowed her to score a 9.925.
In the third spot, Skaggs had a nearly perfect routine showing off her excellent handstands, high release move, and a perfectly stuck dismount, to match her career-high of a 9.95.
Schoenherr and Thomas followed up with a pair of 9.925s, assuring Florida of its the highest bars score of the season, 49.60, and permitting Leah Clapper to anchor the lineup with a 9.75 for a routine with a few short handstands and do no damage to Florida’s rotational scoe.
Last week, I asked Jenny Rowland about how the athletes work on sticks when they are not doing too many hard landings in practice. She told me that they practice the shapes so their bodies know how to land in the meets — clearly, those bodies remembered as much this week!
With a strong performance already halfway home, the Gators moved to beam. Richards led off again with a good routine with a small check on her triple series for a 9.85. Unfortunately, in the second position, Sydney Johnson-Scharpf came off the beam on her series (9.325), putting the pressure on the rest of the lineup. This was no issue for Lazzari who was up next and was nearly perfect on the beam, but took a small slide on her dismount to score a 9.875.
Skaggs followed that with another great performance, with a small lean on her wolf turn leaving her to score a 9.9. Baumann got through her routine as well, with a small balance check on her series and front aerial, but stuck her dismount this week to add a 9.825 to the team total.
After four hits and one miss, the pressure was on Thomas, who had faltered on beam the last two weeks. She adjusted her routine to take out the switch leap mount and was almost perfect — people were saying that she should have gotten a 10, but I think she had a small check on her full turn — to score a 9.95. The Gators were able to drop Johnson-Scharpf’s score and come away with a 49.4 total on beam.
At the beginning of the meet, we got a look at the floor lineup, which featured Lazzari’s debut in place of Baumann who was pulled from the lineup mid-rotation last week as she was suffering from leg cramps. (Coach Rowland assured me that Baumann is fine.) During the warm-up, however, there was a floor lineup change, where Halley Taylor was substituted in for Johnson-Scharpf and Richards was moved to the anchor position.
Skaggs led off again this week with her expertly crafted two-pass routine. She added a double wolf turn this week and controlled her passes well to score a 9.875. In the second position, Taylor was unable to control her double tuck and ended up shooting backwards out of bounds. She scored a 9.7, a score the Gators would want to drop. Lazzari then had her floor debut with clean tumbling (double tuck, 1.5 to layout to stag jump, and double pike) and nice dance to score a 9.85. I know that she has some harder passes that she was training in the preseason, and I hope we get to see them soon.
Reed had another strong routine this week, showing why she is in the top five in the nation on the floor, but came up a bit short on her double pike to score a 9.925. Thomas had an excellent routine complete with a huge double layout and perfect control on her second pass. She was a tiny bit short on her double pike, so she didn’t get the 10, but she did score a 9.95 to finish her massive day in the all-around.
Richards anchored the lineup with another hit — possibly under duress, as I heard that she had sore shins and was hoping to be rested, but had to go in when Taylor had the error — to score a 9.875. The Gators finished the meet with a 49.475 on floor and a 197.850 team total, their highest so far this year.
Thomas won her second all-around title of the year (39.750), Skaggs was in second (39.60), and Richards came in third (39.350). Florida also swept the event crowns, with Thomas doing the heavy lifting: Thomas won the vault title (9.925), beam title (9.95), and floor title (9.95), while, Skaggs won the bars title (9.95).
After this weekend of competition, there were more shake-ups in the rankings. The Gators remain a strong No. 1 over No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Utah, and No. 4 Arkansas, but perennial power Oklahoma dropped to No. 5, continuing an off year for the powerhouse program. Individually, the Gators are also doing well: Thomas is ranked No. 4 on vault and No. 1 on bars, Skaggs is tied for No. 4 on beam and Reed remains at No. 3 on floor. Skaggs is now ranked No. 3 in the all-around and Thomas has jumped up to No. 6.
The Gators will have a bye week next week before traveling to No. 2 LSU on Friday, February 12.