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Florida gymnastics seeks Four on the Floor berth at NCAA Championships

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Having their best athlete back — and near her best — could really boost the Gators.

Courtney Culbreath / Florida Gators

The last four years have been a roller-coaster ride for Florida Gators gymnastics in postseason competition.

In 2018, Florida headed to the NCAA Championships as the No. 5 team and finished third behind UCLA and Oklahoma.

In 2019, the Gators went into NCAA Regionals ranked No. 4 in the country, but fell to Oregon State at the Corvallis Regional, missing a chance to make nationals after having to count a fall on beam.

In 2020, Florida showed consistency and earned high scores all season long, looking like the strongest contender to upset No. 1 Oklahoma for the NCAA title when the season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And now, in 2021, the No. 1 Gators have won the Athens Regional — with only minimal contributions from all-everything performer Trinity Thomas — and headed to the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth as a team for the first time since 2018.

Only seniors Megan Skaggs, Alyssa Baumann, and Jazmyn Foberg have competed at the NCAA Championships as a team. Juniors Savannah Schoenherr and Thomas have competed at NCAA Championships as individuals, but the majority of the Gators’ roster has never stepped foot on the NCAA Championships podium. They will all get to do that — as the nation’s top-ranked team — today.

The Gators start the competition in NCAA National Semi-Final I at 1 p.m. Eastern, where they will compete against Michigan, California, and Minnesota for a spot in the finals, now known as the Four on the Floor on Saturday afternoon, in which the top two teams from this semi-final and the top two teams from Friday evening’s second semi-final will compete for the team national championship.

All three teams in the Gators’ semi-final are formidable opponents, so the Gators will need to be on their A-game. Michigan is coming off of a huge win at the Morgantown Regional (the Wolverines scored a massive 198.1), and Minnesota gave the Gators a good fight for the top position at the Athens Regional. California, meanwhile, is having a record-breaking season, and the Bears’ top-ranked bars team will be sure to set them apart from the field.

The Gators will start on bars, which head coach Jenny Rowland seemed happy about in midweek comments; bars, while not where home or top-ranked teams traditionally start (that’s vault), is at least the same starting event as all away meets. The Gators will hope to use bars and beam, their second apparatus, to get ahead of the rest of the field and be able to use their lead to cruise to a top-two finish through floor and vault.

In the regional semi-final, the Gators had a very strong bars rotation, including season-high performances from freshmen Ellie Lazzari and Gabbie Gallentine. We will hope that the freshmen have no first nationals jitters and are able to deliver early on this event.

Another big question is how many events will Thomas be competing. On Wednesday, Rowland said that Thomas is training all four events and they would be making their determination after the practice on Thursday — and Thomas, who is recovering from ankle injuries, has since shared her vault training on Instagram, so it looks like we may see her there. The Gators will hope that she can safely compete on as many events as possible to give them the highest advantage.

And Thomas being able to go at full speed on Friday will allow her to also be a factor for individual titles and postseason All-American honors, as those are dependent on semi-final scores.

In the all-around, we are hoping to see Thomas back to compete for the title, as she is the No. 1 ranked all-arounder in the country. Skaggs and Lazzari will most likely also in the all-around and have an outside shot at the podium. If you have been following NCAA gymnastics for years, this is mostly likely the largest and most open all-around title field in years, they are genuinely over 10 athletes that have a shot at the title, including Thomas, Minnesota’s Lexy Ramler and Ona Loper, Denver’s Lynnzee Brown, Utah’s Maile O’Keefe, Oklahoma’s Anastasia Webb, Michigan’s Natalie Wojcik, LSU’s Haleigh Bryant and Kiya Johnson, and Alabama’s Luisa Blanco. This is likely to be a very exciting competition and we could see the winners post huge scores and podium spots separated by less than a tenth.

Vault is the least likely event for the Gators to contend on, but if Thomas is back and sticks her Yurchenko 1.5, she will definitely have a shot at the title. Ramler, Loper, Bryant, and Brown will be some of the athletes to watch here.

On bars, Thomas is a favorite to win the event title as the top-ranked bars worker in the country. Skaggs and Gallentine can also make a push for this title, as they both scored 9.95s at Regionals and seem to be peaking at the correct time. Brown, Ramler, Cal’s Emi Watterson, and Oklahoma’s Audrey Davis will be other athletes to watch on this event.

Beam is the mostly likely event to see a Gator win the title. Thomas, Baumann, Lazzari, Leah Clapper, and Skaggs are all capable of scoring 9.95 or higher, and I frankly expect to see at least one of them on the top of the podium. Ramler, Wojcik (the reigning title holder), O’Keefe, and Webb are other athletes to keep an eye on for the beam title.

On floor, I think that Nya Reed has a strong shot at the title. She has been incredibly consistent this season and has never scored below 9.925 on this event. She credits her work on the details for her improvement this season. The electric and polished Thomas will also have a shot at this title if she sees the floor, but I wonder if Florida’s coaches might water down her routine due to her injury. Johnson, Brown, Minnesota’s Mya Hooten, and Bryant will be other floor workers to watch for the title.

As I will be in transit to and in the arena in Fort Worth, this week’s Twitter content will be a little different this weekend and a bit more sporadic. However, I’ll be sharing images and updates from the inside at @DrSam_PhD.