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Florida gymnastics aiming high at 2021 SEC Championships

The Gators hope to continue their unbeaten season and position themselves well for NCAA competition.

Florida Gators

Somehow, I can’t actually believe that we made it to postseason with so few hiccups in this odd COVID year, but the SEC Championships are here!

The SEC Championships are two sessions with the afternoon session at 3:30 EST, with lower this ranking teams: Auburn, Missouri, and Kentucky and the evening session at 8:00 EST, with higher ranking teams: Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas. Georgia was slated to compete in the afternoon session but had to pull out late this week because of COVID testing and protocols. Both meets will be broadcast with select routines and commentary on the SEC Network. SEC+ will feature all of the individual event streams so you can make sure that you don’t miss any single Florida routine.

In the team competition, Florida comes in as the strongest player with the top seed, highest NQS score - 197.944 over LSU (197.700) and Alabama (197.319) -, and the regular-season SEC title. However, in their dual meet wins against LSU and Alabama this year, things got a little too close to comfortably say they can walk away with the title. So, things will probably be exciting.

The big question will be the status of Trinity Thomas. As you probably remember, she injured her ankle on a fluke error in the warmup at Alabama and was pulled from the entire meet. Florida still won the meet, but things were very close without her.

In pre-meet press, Jenny Rowland implied that we shouldn’t expect Thomas on all events tonight. My analysis is that we probably only need her score on bars, which is usually the easiest to come back to after an ankle injury. But, in order to walk away with the title, the more events she is back on, the better.

In the NQS rankings, the Gators are currently tied with Oklahoma for the No. 1 position. The Gators will also be looking to increase their NQS score tonight with a team score greater than 197.500, so they can attempt to move ahead of Oklahoma for the regionals seeding. Florida does have the edge as they need to do better than 197.500 to increase their NQS while Oklahoma needs to do better than 197.800.

Here are some of the top athletes to watch in each event.

In the all-around, if Thomas is out, the competition will be between Alabama’s Luisa Blanco, Arkansas’s Kennedy Hambrick, and LSU’s Haleigh Bryant, who have all scored 39.625+ this season, and usually receive 9.9+ scores on all four events. Florida senior Megan Skaggs has had a great run in the all-around this season as well and has been incredibly consistent, usually scoring between 39.500 and 39.600, so she could definitely be in the mix for the title as well.

On vault, Thomas – who is the reigning 2019 SEC Vault Champion - shares the top ranked spot with LSU’s Bryant ahead of Hambrick, LSU’s Kiya Johnson and Florida’s Savannah Schoenherr. But, numerous SEC athletes have scored 9.925+ this season so I think that the vault winner up for grabs to anyone who can stick their landing. Another few to watch are: Alyona Shchennikova (LSU), Nya Reed (Florida), and Derrian Gobourne (Auburn).

On bars, Thomas leading the rankings again and is the only athlete who has scored a 10.0 on bars in the SEC this season. Maggie O’Hara (Arkansas), Sami Durante (LSU), Makarri Doggette (Alabama), and Shchennikova (LSU) are also in mix, with Florida’s Schoenherr and Skaggs capable of scoring big and getting on the podium.

On beam, the Gators are five (Thomas, Ellie Lazzari, Alyssa Baumann, Leah Clapper, and Skaggs) of the top 8 athletes in the SEC – which is just pure domination on this event. I would predict that any one of these five is capable of taking the title and I would not be surprised to see multiple Gators on the beam podium. Blanco, Hambrick, and Missouri’s Sienna Schreiber are all ones to watch on beam as well.

On floor, Thomas leads the standings once again – although, I would not expect we will see her here if she is still recovering from her ankle injury. Florida’s Reed and Baumann are full capable of winning this event, but they will have challenges from Auburn’s Gobourne, LSU’s Bryant, and Alabama’s Graber.

It should be an incredibly exciting competition with all four teams in the evening session ranked in the top 10 nationally.

In the pre-meet awards, the entire Gators roster was named to the SEC Community Service team and Leah Clapper was named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Saturday night’s session will air live on ESPN. Both live stats and a broadcast feed are available online, as well.

For my part, I’m live-blogging the event in a Google Doc because my Twitter account remains suspended.