In one of the closest matchups so far this season, Florida came up short against rival Georgia last night, losing by only 0.075. On paper, the night looked relatively similar to most home meets so far this season, save for some uncharacteristic struggles on beam, but Georgia unexpectedly put up scores they’ve struggled to achieve on the road thus far, ultimately earning them the win. When discussing her team’s performance last night, head coach Jenny Rowland emphasized the word “good.” “It was a good night for the Gators, we had four good events. No event stood out more than anything else, all pretty solid performers. We left a lot out on the floor tonight, and really I’d just say that for the Gators tonight, it was a missed opportunity.” The understood distinction there is that they were good, not great, and that that’s what will make the difference the next time Florida faces the Gymdogs at SEC Championships. She also reminded us that gymnastics doesn’t go by win/lose. “We go by scores,” she said, “and I mean, we really had a decent night tonight.”
The Gators started out behind as they have at every home meet, but by the slightest possible margin – 0.025 – but continued to show how they are upping their game on what could be considered their weakest event this season. Florida became just the third team in the nation to post a full lineup of 10.0 start value vaults since the devaluation of the Yurchenko full a few years ago, and only the second team to have all six hit. Senior Alicia Boren added to her long list of event titles by posting the highest score, a 9.925 for her Yurchenko 1.5, with one of the best landings she’s hit all season. Alyssa Baumann also solidified her place in the vault lineup with her Yurchenko 1.5, earning a 9.8 as she continues to find the sweet spot on her landing. But Georgia was dialing it in on bars as well, posting a 49.3 highlighted by a refined, dynamic routine from Marissa Oakley for a 9.95. Alexa Al-Hameed shined as well with her huge floaty Tkachev release, scoring a 9.875.
Rotation two saw the Gators go to bars, one of their most consistent events this season, and scored a 49.4. Florida was still without bars and beam stalwart Rachel Gowey this week, as doctors recommended a two-week rest for her after an old back injury flared up, so Maegan Chant took her spot in the lineup, but only earned a 9.75. Amelia Hundley had an off night as well, losing her swing in a couple of places, though she did well to mask it. She too only earned a 9.75. Still, Trinity Thomas earned a 9.975 (as she has three times now this season) and Megan Skaggs posted a 9.925, ensuring the Gators still earned a respectable total. Rowland expressed her feelings about the former after the meet, raving about Thomas’s handstands and cleanliness. “Her bars, I thought, were pretty fantastic,” she said, drawing out the word of high praise. Without saying as much, it’s clear that the head coach is frustrated with the fact that Thomas hasn’t been given a perfect score here yet, as even she isn’t able to find any corrections to give her young gymnast. The Gymdogs had a good showing on vault as well, putting up four 10.0 starts and three 9.9 scores, belonging to Rachel Dickson, Rachael Lukacs and Sydney Snead. At the halfway point of the meet, Florida had retaken the lead, but again by a margin of just 0.025, the smallest margin possible in a regular-season meet.
The third rotation was where the Gators started to show some uncharacteristic nerves, with Skaggs having a major break at the hips on her series for just a 9.625, and Baumann falling altogether. This meant that Skaggs’s score had to count and put freshman anchor Leah Clapper in a difficult pressure situation in order to not count Baumann’s fall. The rookie delivered, though, earning a 9.825 as her team rushed in to celebrate her success. Georgia, meanwhile, was delivering on floor, highlighted by a 9.9 from freshman Lukacs, to the tune of 49.325. The Gymdogs’ consistency here is perhaps what gave them the edge, leaving them with a lead of 0.125 after three, the largest lead at any point in the meet.
As it has many times before, it came down to the very last routine of the meet, as the Gators took to floor, their best event so far this season, while Georgia went to beam, traditionally an inconsistent event for it. It seemed that something was off from the beginning, though, as Savannah Schoenherr had an odd landing on one of her twisting passes that caused her to stumble, though she didn’t fall, only earning her a 9.75. Hundley hit the reset button, as she did on beam, with a strong 9.875, followed by back-to-back-to-back lights out routines from Nya Reed, Boren and Thomas, all for 9.925 or higher. Meanwhile, despite a few bobbles, Georgia put up some solid scores on beam, including a 9.925 from Rachel Baumann (Alyssa’s younger sister) and a 9.95 from Sabrina Vega. Vega showcased Georgia’s moonwalk tradition, a move the team passes down from gymnast to gymnast over the years, and stood steadfast like the veteran she is despite massive noise from the crowd when Thomas’s event-winning 9.975 was posted. Anchor Alyssa Baumann followed Vega, and she needed a 9.9 to tie it up with Georgia, a score she’s achieved four out of five previous outings this year. Unfortunately, she too had an uncharacteristic extra-crossed-over landing on her twisting pass and only earned a 9.825. The meet ended with the Gators at 197.375 and the Gymdogs just edging them out at 197.450.
Despite the loss of the meet itself, the Gators still won four of the five individual titles, with Boren taking vault and Thomas taking bars, floor and the all-around. When asked about Thomas’s training this week, Rowland discussed her priorities and how she put the ball in Thomas’s court. The freshman left immediately after the meet for Sarasota, Fla. where the following morning, she would compete in verification for National Team Camp with Team USA. “We’ve talked about it for a little while and advised her that this would be a great meet to rest. She does not, did not want to do that, and I did not want to take away that opportunity for her. Really, it’s what she wants. Her health is of utmost interest… she’s healthy, she’s in great shape, and this is what she wanted to do, so we gave her the green light. She’s in control, she’s in charge, and she’s taking ownership of her own life and her gymnastics, so I’m really proud of her for that.”
Each of the Gators spoke after the meet about their mixed feelings about some of their performances and their desire to do more and learn from this miss. Despite earning a huge 39.6 in the all-around, Boren said of her night, “It was pretty good. I definitely didn’t the bar routine maybe that I wanted, and there were other little things here and there.” Hundley, too, wasn’t totally pleased with her night. “There are things that I was happy about that I improved on from the last few weeks, but there were also things that I beat myself up over a little bit. I think this was a good learning experience, and we still have a lot of time. I think we can either go down from our mistakes, or we can use them as a learning tool and see what we can improve upon, and I think [the latter] is what we’re going to do.”