In another hotly-contested meeting, Florida defeated LSU tonight 197.500 to 197.425, with the outcome coming down to the very last routines of the night.
The Gators started out on bars, since it was an away meet, keeping the same lineup as last week. Trinity Thomas and Megan Skaggs were again a highlight, closing out the rotation with a 9.925 and 9.9, respectively. Amelia Hundley was also a key part of the high scoring event, showing a 9.9 with her transition-heavy routine. Meanwhile, the Tigers started out a little slow on vault, with Sarah Edwards sitting her Yurchenko 1.5 and only one routine breaking the 9.9 mark. Sarah Finnegan, their leadoff performer, earned a near-perfect 9.925 for her Yurchenko full, a vault which starts out of 9.95.
In rotation two, Florida was also limited on vault, giving away a tenth or so on pretty much every landing, unable to stick a single vault. Most improved was Savannah Schoenherr: she struggled last week with her Yurchenko 1.5 and put a knee down, but just had a small hop forward tonight. LSU, meanwhile, had better success on bars, with Kennedi Edney, Lexie Priessman and Finnegan going 9.9, 9.925 and 9.95 in the 4-5-6 slots. At this halfway mark, LSU led Florida by two tenths, 98.775 to 98.575.
Floor was once again a lights-out success for the Gators, with Nya Reed and Alicia Boren scoring a pair of 9.9s and Thomas tying for the event win with a 9.95. It wasn’t perfect – there was a scoring dispute with Hundley’s routine that confused many. Gymnasts only have 90 seconds for their floor routines, and if they go overtime, it’s a one-tenth neutral deduction from their final score. Judges thought Hundley went over time somehow (even though the prerecorded music is timed and cut perfectly so it’s nearly impossible to do so), so she was initially given a 9.725. It was eventually corrected to a 9.825 after a successful score inquiry. LSU went on beam in the third rotation and had a few rough moments. Bridget Dean nearly missed her jump series connection and had to fix it in the moment, and Sami Durante also showed some nerves, earning just a 9.8 and 9.775 respectively. Even Finnegan showed some uncharacteristic uncertainty, bobbling on her acrobatic series and earning just a 9.85. Still, Kennedi Edney and Reagan Campbell stepped up, earning a pair of 9.9s to keep things close.
In the final rotation, Florida went to beam while LSU went to floor, normally their most explosive event. But Florida was prepared, counting only score below 9.9. Alyssa Baumann returned on beam (and floor) tonight after her scary fall before last week’s meet, earning herself a 9.9, and Boren and Thomas matched her with 9.9s of their own. But it was Rachel Gowey who will return to Gainesville with another beam title under her belt, earning a 9.925 with her balance of precision and elegance. LSU made a last-minute change on floor, subbing in Priessman for Sarah Edwards, but it didn’t quite work like they had planned. Priessman put a hand down on her second pass and had two short landings, meaning they needed to drop her 9.3 rather than being able to get rid of one of their mid-9.8 scores. Edney also struggled some, coming in short on her double arabian and only earning a 9.8. It came down to the very last routine – McKenna Kelley’s floor routine, her first double layout since her Achilles tear last year – and she needed a 9.95 to win. She’s capable of such a score, but unfortunately for the Tigers, she landed with her chest very low on that opening double layout and had a few tiny things in other places and only earned a 9.875.
Expect this meet to be a preview of what’s to come in March at the SEC Championships. These two teams are the best in the conference right now, and some of the best in the nation, and they’re just getting started. Both teams have areas to still improve upon, so if they can make the corrections they need to make, conference championships are going to be more exciting this year than they’ve ever been, and both teams should expect to make nationals. Florida came out on top this time, ending LSU’s home winning streak they’ve had since 2013, but will they again in March in New Orleans? It’ll be another tight meet, just like tonight, that’s for sure.