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++In perhaps their best meet of the season, the Gators went lights out to defeat Penn State and honor their graduating seniors last night, earning a 198.025. Reaching the 198 mark is a coveted achievement by the top teams in the nation: it has only been reached 110 times in the history of NCAA gymnastics, and just 19 times in Gator Gymnastics history. To put that number in context, a 200 would be a perfect team score, where every routine on every event scores a perfect 10.0. This means that as a team, the Gators only incurred 1.975 in deductions in last night’s meet. **-

At the center of the action was senior Alicia Boren, who earned a share of both the beam and floor titles and reached a 39.725 mark in the all-around – which didn’t even earn her the title! When asked what was different about tonight, she said it was all to do with the team dynamic. “I think they really rallied behind us. We went out there and they were like, ‘Do it for the seniors, do it for Bailey, do it for Gator nation!’ and that’s what we did.” Her ‘us,’ of course, refers to her and Amanda Cheney, the seniors being honored at their last home meet of their careers. Boren and Cheney both competed on all the events they train, though Cheney’s two routines were exhibition only, meaning they couldn’t count toward the team total.

Where vault has been a weakness in past weeks for Florida, it was the spark that kickstarted the fire night the team was about to have. Megan Skaggs returned to the vault lineup for the first time since last season to lead off with a Yurchenko full that she stuck cold, and Sierra Alexander followed her with essentially a carbon copy vault, including the perfect landing. Both were rewarded with 9.875s for their efforts, earning and matching their collegiate best, respectively. Nya Reed struggled on her Yurchenko 1.5, but Trinity Thomas set the team back on track, setting her collegiate-best mark at 9.95. Savannah Schoenherr hit her 1.5, and Boren closed out the lineup by tying her season-best at 9.925. All told, the vault squad earned a 49.475 for their efforts, with coach Rowland saying that she “finally saw the team go out there and do what they do every day in the gym.”

Though the team finally found their landings on vault, bars was a different story. Everyone had trouble sticking, costing the Gators valuable tenths here and there. Still, with strong handstand form and high-flying releases, Florida earned four scores of 9.9 or higher. Amelia Hundley had the lone truly stuck dismount of the bunch, earning her a 9.925 and the bars title for the meet. Rachel Gowey also returned to the lineup this week after sitting out the last three meets resting an old back injury. Though she only earned a 9.825, it was nice to see her back in the mix.

Beam saw a little lineup shakeup, as it seems Rowland may be anticipating having to field a beam squad sans Gowey. Hundley led off, scoring a 9.85 despite a bobble on her series. Skaggs was moved to the second slot, earning her collegiate best of 9.925. Boren remained in the three spot, matching Skaggs’s score with one of her strongest routines of late. Leah Clapper found her new home in fourth position, showing nerves of steel as she locked her triple acro series into place, not showing any sign of shakiness for a 9.875. Thomas and Alyssa Baumann were the 5-6 punch to close it out, attacking the beam and showcasing the confidence it takes to anchor the Gator beam lineup for 9.925 and 9.9, respectively. Both have had to make adjustments to their very difficult routines to ensure consistent hits, but said adjustments have paid off and haven’t affected their scoring ability at all.

All night, it felt like things were leading to floor. This is truly where the Gators have shined all year, and last night was no different. Skaggs, in her first floor performance this season, led the lineup off with a huge 9.9 for her jazzy routine. Hundley followed, but she overdid it on her opening double pass and ended up having to roll backwards and out of bounds to avoid injuring herself. In the three spot, Reed was clearly thinking about what had just happened to her teammate, as she stepped out of bounds on her double layout and her performance quality was not quite as electric as usual. Still, she hit the reset button for the team and earned a 9.8 for her efforts. Thomas slid down to the fourth spot this week, but it didn’t limit her scoring potential, as she earned a 9.975 for her spectacular tumbling and elegant dance. Baumann, still doing her easier double tuck as her opening pass instead of her double layout, danced her way to a 9.875, and then it was Boren’s turn. Finally getting to anchor after being used as a score-building routine all season, Boren turned it up to 11 on her performance. Her tumbling was powerful and clean, her presence lit up the arena from top to bottom – she was absolutely on fire. Unfortunately, only one judge rewarded her with perfection, so she ended up with a final score of 9.975.

Still, it was just enough to put the Gators over the 198 mark, which will boost their qualifying score for Regionals. This is especially important considering Florida only has one more meet to improve its RQS, which is calculated by averaging certain scores, and it still trails both UCLA and Oklahoma, who both have more 198s than Florida this season. Still, it’s ultimately the score on the day of that determines the national champion, and if Florida can keep doing what it did here, it might actually have a shot at the title again.

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