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Florida gymnastics cruises into final day of NCAA Regionals competition

Tonight, though, could be make-or-break.

Florida Gators

The Florida Gators gymnastics team began the two-part process of qualifying for the NCAA Championships on Friday night in Athens, Georgia.

One meet down, one to go.

The Gators shone bright on Friday night, putting up the second highest score of the regionals weekend, 197.950, even with Trinity Thomas limited to only one appratus.

The Gators started the meet with a huge beam rotation score — 49.625! — highlighted by Megan Skaggs (9.90), Ellie Lazzari (9.95), Leah Clapper (9.95), and Alyssa Baumann (9.975) all scoring over 9.90. On floor, after a mistake from Clapper in the leadoff spot, the Gators hit five consecutive routines, featuring Skaggs’s career-high (9.90), the return of Sydney Johnson-Scharpf (9.875), and another huge score from Nya Reed (9.95).

This kept the Gators well ahead of the rest of the field going into the second half of the meet.

Jazmyn Foberg started the Gators off with a 9.700 on vault, which was lower than they were hoping for, but the rest of the lineup hit — Skaggs and Savannah Schoenherr both scored 9.90s — and Baumann was subbed in for the anchor spot to rest Payton Richards, earning a 9.825 for her spot duty.

The Gators finished the meet on bars, their problem event at the SEC Championships, and did so with a performance to suggest that their issues were in the past. Richards started the lineup off strong with a 9.825, and Lazzari followed her with a career-high 9.90. Skaggs finished what became her career-high all-around meet with a 9.95, and then Schoenherr hit her routine for a 9.875 before Thomas’ only performance of the night.

As usual, she was perfection — and scored a perfect 10 in her cameo.

Gabbie Gallentine anchored the lineup with her own career-high, a 9.95, and Florida’s bars score of 49.675 was the third-best in Gators history.

The big story coming out of the meet, however, was the upset of Illinois. Illinois was seeded at No. 16 and got edged on the night by No. 26 NC State — which had been in the play-in meet on Thursday night even though they were ranked high enough to skip the play-in routine, and thus became the first team to make it to the regional finals out of the play-in round.

Tonight poses a bigger test for the Gators. No. 8 Minnesota (NQS: 197.431) and No. 9 Denver (197.344) are both formidable contenders to make it to Nationals, and the Gators will need to beat one of them.

Minnesota’s team is led by two of the strongest all-arounders in the country, Ona Loper and Lexy Ramler, as well as three-event freshman star Mya Hooten. All three have scored 10s this season. The Gophers’ highest team score of the season is 197.750.

Denver’s season has been a series of ups and downs, with athletes being out for COVID protocols and new athletes needed to contribute to the team score. Senior Lynnzee Brown is also one of the strongest all-arounders in the country and will be leading their team. Their highest team score this year is 197.650.

In their semi-final, Minnesota had a strong performance across all four events for a 197.625, while Denver struggled and almost didn’t make it to the regional finals (196.775).

Minnesota and Denver are both known for beautiful gymnastics — as is, obviously, Florida —so this will definitely be a meet to watch.

Fans can tune in via ESPN3 beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern, and can follow along with live stats as provided by Georgia. As always, live tweets will also be available at @DrSam_PhD.