Photo by Brian Fox / Chomp Talk

“That was our halfway point for the regular season, Gators!” Head coach Jenny Rowland pointed out tonight, expressing how happy she was with the team’s progress. Florida continued to put more pieces of the puzzle together tonight as it fine-tuned details, minimized deductions and mixed up lineups at its annual Link to Pink meet, celebrating and supporting breast cancer fighters and survivors. Though the Gators once again started the night behind – a trend for home meets thus far this season – they surged forward to defeat the Auburn Tigers 197.8 to 196.7.

Though they still started out behind Auburn, the Gators made significant improvements on vault tonight, with much smaller landing errors from Nya Reed, Savannah Schoenherr and Trinity Thomas. Alicia Boren won the event with a 9.925 after essentially sticking her Yurchenko 1.5, her best mark of the season to date. Auburn started out especially strong on bars, posting no score lower than a 9.85. Abby Milliet was the standout for the Tigers there, posting a 9.9 routine featuring effortless handstands and a perfectly stuck dismount. After one, the Tigers led by just 0.025, the smallest margin possible.

Rotation two demonstrated yet again why the Gators are No. 1 in the nation on bars. The team counted no scores below 9.85, and Amelia Hundley and Thomas went 9.9 and 9.95, respectively. Schoenherr was also a highlight of the bars squad, debuting a new double back-half out dismount and sticking it cold. In turn, Auburn went to vault and struggled some. Gracie Day landed short on her Yurchenko 1.5 and ended up sitting it down after staggering, trying to stay on her feet. Jada Glenn also had a miscue on her 1.5, overpowering it and taking a large lunge forward. After two, the Gators had overtaken their opponents, scoring 98.775 to the Tigers’ 98.3.

The third rotation brought Florida to beam, where it struggled some in the past few weeks, but there was no sign of difficulty tonight. Boren, Rachel Gowey and Alyssa Baumann all tied for the beam title, each earning a 9.9. Baumann put her Onodi, a back handspring with a half twist, back into her routine after falling on it two weeks ago against Kentucky at home. It’s a risky skill, far above the difficulty level required in college gymnastics, but it’s also her signature one – she’s the only gymnast in the NCAA who competes it. It was clear she was nervous about it, as she had a small wobble as she completed the skill, but she kept it controlled and didn’t panic: the mark of a true champion. Auburn, meanwhile, went to floor and used the huge crowd – 9,055 people – to its advantage, fueling its performances with the energy it drew from the fans. The Tigers had a clean rotation, counting all scores 9.85 or higher and closing it out with a pair of 9.925s from Milliet and Day. Before the final rotation, the Gators extended their lead over Auburn 148.2 to 147.75.

To finish the night, Florida went to floor, where it somehow always seems to seal the deal, ensuring that it remains the only undefeated SEC team left this season. Schoenherr made her competitive debut on the event, earning a solid 9.85 to lead off the rotation. Scores continued to build from there – a 9.875 for Hundley, a 9.925 for Reed, a 9.95 for Boren and a 9.975 for Thomas. With each new routine, the volume of the crowd increased as they demanded perfect 10.0s from the judges, and booed indiscriminately as they were not rewarded. The final routine from Baumann sealed the deal for the Gators, and though her 9.925 was not the 10.0 the team and crowd had hoped for, it ensured the win for her team and earned the team its best floor mark this season, a 49.65. On beam for the final rotation, Auburn struggled, seeing a fall from Taylor Krippner on her front aerial. Skyler Sheppard and Drew Watson’s scores dipped into the 9.7 range, solidifying the Gator win, but Milliet and Meredith Sylvia were able to hit 9.85 and 9.875 respectively, ensuring the team could drop Krippner’s fall and still put up a very respectable score. The meet finished with the Gators at 197.85 and the Tigers at 196.7.

Link to Pink is always a very special night for the Gators regardless of the score, as the team competes for “something so much bigger than [them]selves,” according to freshman Schoenherr. She and Thomas agreed that their first Link to Pink was an experience to remember, saying that it was “absolutely amazing to see all the survivors, to be able to touch their hands and know that we’re doing this for them.” Tonight was also Boren’s last Link to Pink, and each year, her aunt has been in the crowd among those being honored. She said that “every time I look out on the crowd or out to my aunt, to see her smiling face… it’s a feeling I can’t even put into words. I love to be able to do something for other people; you know, we compete for ourselves and our team, but now we get to compete for something bigger than that.”

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