Tonight, the No. 3 Florida Gators gymnastics will host the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners in a resumption of their recent rivalry in the O’Dome. This will be the third top-10 matchup the Gators have hosted this season, coming after their wins against Alabama and LSU, but it is is the first meet this season where the Gators are ranked below their opponent or in which Florida’s opponent has won a national title more recently than the Gators.
And if those stakes weren’t enough, this meet is also Senior Night for Florida — and the Gators will be honoring eight athletes between fifth-year “super seniors” Alyssa Baumann and Megan Skaggs and fourth-year seniors Leah Clapper, Sydney Johnson-Scharpf, Nya Reed, Savannah Schoenherr, Halley Taylor, and Trinity Thomas.
(Of note, the fourth-year seniors are all eligible to compete for a fifth year under the COVID rules. None have confirmed that they will, but Clapper, Reed, Schoenherr, and Thomas have all signaled that they are thinking about it.)
The last time the Gators and Sooners met for a dual meet was in 2019 in Norman, Oklahoma and the Sooners came away with the win, 198.325 to 198.025. The year before that, the Sooners visited Gainesville and lost to the Gators, 198.15 to 198.125, with a freshman Baumann’s anchor floor routine sealing the win. Florida leads the series 14-11-1 — and you may recall the one tie came with a national championship on the line.
This season, Florida and Oklahoma are very well matched. Both teams are not only in the top four overall for team rankings, but also sit in the national top five on all four events. The Gators are ranked No. 2 on vault, the Sooners are No. 4. On bars, the Sooners rank No. 1 and the Gators are tied for fourth. On beam, the Gators are the top team in the nation, the Sooners are close behind at No. 5. On floor, the Gators rank No. 5 and the Sooners are No. 4.
In gymnastics, the national rankings are determined by scores and not head-to-head wins. This means that even if the Gators win and preserve their undefeated record tonight, they will likely not pass the Oklahoma in the rankings.
This is also the first week of the season that the rankings are determined by the National Qualifying Score (NQS) instead of a simple average. The NQS is calculated by taking the top six scores, three of which must be recorded in meets staged away from home, then dropping the top score and averaging the remaining five scores. For the rest of the season, this is how the rankings will be calculated. These qualifying scores are also used to seed the teams in their respective regionals for the postseason.
The Gators already have some very good home scores from this season: Tallies of 198.250, 198.150, and 197.700 are on their slate to date. But that, in turn, means that the Gators do not have a great opportunity to raise their 197.630 NQS this weekend at home. They will really be hoping for a high score next weekend at Auburn, so they can drop their 196.975 from the Georgia meet.
Tonight, win or lose, only a score of 197.700 or better will help the Gators to raise their NQS score — and so their ranking next may be as or more dependent on the Sooners, who will be adding a road score, as well as No. 4 Utah.
And in contrast to what Florida has to do to alter its NQS, Oklahoma’s is currently at least partially based on a relatively mediocre score — for Oklahoma, anyway — of 196.650 from their loss at Utah earlier this season. The Sooners should be able to replace that with a higher score from Gainesville this weekend and raise their 197.640 NQS. With an exceptionally high score, they could even possibly vault past Michigan for the No. 1 spot — and scores at the Florida vs. Oklahoma meets are usually big.
The NQS rankings are also the reason that some of the top Gators dropped out of the individual national standings this week. Several of the top Florida performers have been rested on and off through the first seven weeks of the season, and now do not have enough scores for an NQS — and the list includes Thomas, Reed, and Leanne Wong. That doesn’t ultimately change much for them individually, as their NQS scores will really only come into play if the Gators don’t advance in postseason competition as a team, but it’s more evidence of how much of the collegiate gymnastics world is in thrall to the NQS system.
That said: NQS scores help demonstrate that the Sooners are bringing a cast of stars to the O’Dome. Sophomore Katherine LeVasseur is ranked No. 1 on vault, sophomore Audrey Davis is ranked No. 1 on bars, and Ragan Smith is ranked No. 1 on beam. They will be giving the Gators a run for their money in the individual titles.
Tonight’s meet will also feature a stunning seven athletes who have scored perfect 10.0s already this season. Sooners LeVasseur (VT), Allie Stern (VT), Carly Woodard (beam), and Smith (beam) and Gators Thomas (VT, BB, FX), Reed (FX), and Wong (UB) will make this the meet with the most perfect 10 athletes in 2022 thus far — and that’s without considering that two additional athletes have scored perfect 10s in their careers, Oklahoma’s Olivia Trautman (VT, FX) and Florida’s Clapper (BB). Trautman is coming back from an injury and competed for the first time this season on beam last week, and Clapper hasn’t been quite at the peak of her form, but anything can happen when Florida and Oklahoma meet.
Personally, I would not be surprised to see multiple perfect 10s tonight — and whether or not we get those, I think this meet is bound to be high scoring and exciting. And I’ll be in the O’Dome to cover it for you.