2019 has arrived, and you know what that means – it’s gymnastics season, Gator fans!
Technically the season has already started, with many of the nation’s top teams coming out with big statement-making scores, including the highest-ever recorded opening-weekend score, a 198.050 from former national champion Oklahoma.
The bar has been set, but there are still a number of key players biding their time who will kick off their seasons this weekend, including the Florida Gators. Bolstered by what College Gym Fans named the best new recruiting class in the country, the Gators are one of the top teams in conversation for the national championship this year.
That road won’t be easy though, as this year marks the start of a new preseason format, which will narrow the national semifinals field to only eight teams from twelve, and Four on the Floor will replace the Super Six format of finals. This means competition will be even fiercer, but we think Florida is up to the challenge – now let’s talk about why.
Since the devaluation of the Yurchenko full three years ago, teams have been pushing to have a full lineup of 10.0 start-value vaults. No one has done it yet, though many teams train six or more as the season progresses. Florida is one of those teams, having shown off six very viable Yurchenko 1.5s at the Orange and Blue intrasquad and the possibility for eight or nine total vaults valued at a 10.0. Here are the key players you can expect to see in the vault lineup this season…
Alicia Boren: Stepping into the leadership role like a pro, Boren’s Yurchenko 1.5 is a thing of beauty, and has been for her entire college career. She’s started training a Yurchenko double full, the same incredibly difficult vault Alex McMurtry once competed, though whether or not we see it in competition is still up in the air.
Trinity Thomas: Though a freshman, expect Thomas to sit very late in this lineup, as her Yurchenko 1.5 is straight from the textbook. Her beautiful extension, height and distance are a product of her attention to detail and the elite training that she continued even into the fall semester.
Nya Reed: Freshman Reed is known for her power in the leg events. Her Yurchenko 1.5 explodes from the table; the only trick will be controlling her landing to keep that score high.
Alyssa Baumann: Stellar on two events last season, this sophomore is gunning for the all-around this year, and that started with upping her vault difficulty. Her Yurchenko 1.5 is more viable than anyone really gave her credit for before seeing it at Orange and Blue, and if all of her vaults are like that one, she’ll be earning 9.9s in no time.
Savannah Schoenherr: She may be the third Gator freshman to bring a 1.5 to the table, but don’t let the order of this difficulty parade fool you – Schoenherr is the real deal. She has an uncanny ability to put it to her feet and hasn’t missed a vault in two years of competition.
Amelia Hundley: Whether competing her 1.5 or her full, Hundley is sure to contend for this lineup. Her full shows consistency enough for a strong leadoff performance, but if she can develop the same quality in her 1.5, she’ll be competitive for the later half of this group.
In the past, bars has been a strong event for Florida, but there are big shoes to fill without McMurtry’s weekly 9.9s. The blessing for the Gators here will be depth. Head coach Jenny Rowland has lots of options she can try if someone isn’t getting the scores they need. Here are those we expect to be mainstays on uneven bars…
Amelia Hundley: This junior frequently held the #5 slot and earned many 9.9+ scores as the prelude to McMurtry’s anchor routine. She may now be called to anchor this lineup with her easy swing and dynamic release skills.
Rachel Gowey: Completing the junior one-two punch in this lineup, Gowey’s claim to fame is finesse. Toe point, handstands, and extension through the arms are going to earn her the high scores to stake a claim to a slot in the later half of this lineup.
Alicia Boren: Though bars may not be her best event, Boren is unmatched on this team in her ability to hit set after set, with only one fall out of 56 routines last year. Her consistency and her potential all-around score will keep her in this bars lineup for sure.
Trinity Thomas: She shows great power on the leg events, but Thomas is also known for her elegance on bars as well. Her ability to paste her legs together and point her toes on both releases and handstands will set her apart from the remaining competitors for this lineup.
Megan Skaggs: Bounced around from event to event last season, Skaggs is a jack-of-all-trades, but bars seems to be where she fits in most strongly. Her high-flying Tkachev to pak salto combination is sure to earn her big bonus points with the judges. So even if she seems to be flying under the radar with all the other big names out there, never count her out.
One of Florida’s more inconsistent events last season, beam will also benefit from its newfound depth. While many will contend for one or two lineup slots, here’s who you should expect to see week after week on this tricky apparatus.
Alyssa Baumann: Beam is this sophomore’s signature event. Her difficulty, extension, precision and presence all add up to one absolutely stellar routine. Watch to see just how many elements she can connect: she trains far more combinations than a typical routine requires and will sometimes throw them all just for fun. Expect to see her anchor this event this season, even as an underclassman.
Rachel Gowey: Perhaps the only teammate to give Baumann a run for her money, Gowey is beauty and grace in every beam skill. Her triple acro series and gorgeous leap positions will surely earn her high marks for yet another season – maybe even a perfect 10.0?
Alicia Boren: Again, as Florida’s top all-around contender, Boren is a must-have on every event. Her consistency and even keel make her an important part of this Gator lineup.
Trinity Thomas: Beam is a specialty for this freshman, whose one-armed back handspring to layout-stepout is sure to be a crowd pleaser in the O-Dome. Her confidence and precision will make her such an asset to her new team.
This event will likely be the real showpiece for this Gators team. The power underlying each routine is palpable, but in different ways – each feels like an individually crafted piece for the gymnast that really plays to each girl’s strengths. Here are the big show-stoppers you can expect to see…
Alicia Boren: Finally a senior, Boren will take center stage as the headlining act this year. Her powerful tumbling and her ability to engage the crowd will be sure to give her the edge on anchoring the lineup this year.
Nya Reed: With more personality in her pinky than many have in their entire bodies, Reed set the crowd abuzz at the Orange and Blue intrasquad. She’s got sass and confidence for days, and the tumbling chops to back it up.
Trinity Thomas: Thomas has swapped the club beats and sass of most of her teammates for elegance and drama in her freshman routine, and it suits her. Her double layout soars higher than any other Gator, and if you don’t know her for her stellar 180+ degree leap positions yet, you will.
Alyssa Baumann: As the frequent anchor post-Baker last season, Baumann knows what it takes to bring the O-Dome to its feet. Having had a full two years to recover from her elbow injury, she’s in even better shape than last season, which should hopefully mean none of the stamina issues or wild tumbling we saw last year.
Bubbling just beneath these lineup locks are a few alternate players to keep an eye on. We’re not sure which of them will end up making the final lineups, but all of them are likely to compete their events at least a few times, even if only to help their teammates rest.
Sydney Johnson-Scharpf: This freshman is a fighter on beam and a spitfire on floor, so watch for her to make both lineups at some point this season. Her dance talent and ability to capture her audience will give her a real edge on floor, especially at home.
Amelia Hundley: Hundley can potentially throw a double layout on floor and can typically be counted on for a decent leadoff score on beam, but with all the competition for lineup slots this season, it’s hard to call her a lock for anything but bars.
Megan Skaggs: Again, Skaggs acted as a plug-and-play routine in most lineups last year, fitting in wherever she needed to whenever she was needed. Now, she has even more competition for lineup slots, but expect her to make the rounds through all four events over the course of the season.
Savannah Schoenherr: She’s more than just her 10.0 vault – Schoenherr was the bars champion in her division at J.O. Nationals last year, and her tumbling on floor makes her a very viable option there as well. She’s got the chops to make more than one lineup; it’ll just be a question of which ones.
Maegan Chant: Having competed vault and bars in the past, Chant is working a new 10.0 start value vault to try to work her way into the lineup. The handspring pike half (the same vault Slocum competed) she’s training still needs some work but could definitely be an option for postseason. And her bars are good in a pinch in case someone needs a week to rest.
Overall, the outlook for this season is really strong for Florida. They will have competitors whose depth is also promising, including the only teams who have won a national title since Florida’s last win – UCLA and Oklahoma. But despite the smaller nationals field and increasing nationwide parity, Florida should absolutely expect to be in the conversation for the title this year.