This weekend, your favorite Gator gymnasts will head to a less familiar swamp – New Orleans, La. – for the SEC Gymnastics Championships. Though favored to win, Florida cannot coast through this meet and expect to take the crown. Many conference opponents will look to this meet to jumpstart their postseason journeys, and upsetting Florida would do that in spectacular fashion. The Gators will need to continue building as they have throughout the season, improving their landings and staying in the moment in order to defeat tough adversaries like LSU and Georgia. We’ll break it down event by event to discuss the Gators’ highlights and challenges, as well as the roadblocks their opponents may pose.
Vault is where Florida has struggled most this year, but in the last few meets, it’s shown moments of promise. Landings are the key focus here, because that’s where the vault squad has consistently been losing tenths. At one point, the Gators did post a full lineup of 10.0 start value vaults, but it wasn’t really worth it: Yurchenko fulls from the likes of Megan Skaggs and Sierra Alexander can score higher than some of the messier but more difficult vaults. Be sure to watch how those opening fulls do, because they will set the tone for the lineup, as well as the closing vaults from Trinity Thomas and Alicia Boren. If both of them are on their game that night, the scores could start to soar. Now, both LSU and Georgia are ranked higher on vault than Florida, both averaging nearly a tenth or more per meet on the event. That may not seem like a lot, but in what is expected to be a bitter fight to the end, every tenth will count. At LSU, watch out for Sarah Finnegan, whose full is near perfection every time, and Kennedi Edney, a former SEC champion on the event with her 1.5. And at Georgia, the double whammy of Sydney Snead and Rachael Lukacs to close the Gymdog lineup is tough to beat, especially with Lukacs performing the Yurchenko double full, perhaps the hardest vault being performed in the NCAA.
Florida will actually start the meet on bars, which could be a blessing – bars has been one of its best events all season. Led off by Boren, the paragon of consistency here, Florida bars features a full lineup of 9.9-capable competitors. At their best, Thomas, Boren, Skaggs and Amelia Hundley have all scored 9.95 or better. If they can all “be normal,” as they often are asked to be by head coach Jenny Rowland, it could make for a huge starting total for Florida. Though Florida is the top ranked team on bars in the SEC, LSU is not far behind. Watch out for their double whammy of Finnegan and Lexie Priessman at the end of the lineup, who both have the capability to score a perfect 10. Georgia is further behind the curve here, but keep an eye out for big scores from Alexa Al-Hameed and Rachel Dickson. Kentucky, having ousted Alabama from the night session, should also not be counted out on bars – Mollie Korth can put up huge numbers when she hits.
On beam, the Gators have been a little hit or miss. Some weeks they’re on fire, with every routine scoring 9.85 or above. However, disaster has struck a few times, particularly in the latter half of the lineup where the strongest scores should be. Every routine for Florida beam has high scoring potential, but especially keep watch for Alyssa Baumann. She can seal the deal on beam if it’s one of her good nights. Also key to this beam squad is the presence, or lack there of, of Rachel Gowey. After an old injury flareup, she has not yet returned to the lineup, calling into question the depth of 9.9-capable routines in the lineup. If she returns, expect the one-two punch of Gowey and Baumann to close the beam lineup for the Gators with phenomenal scores. But Florida has to be careful. Giving up valuable tenths with wobbles or falls could destroy the lead they will likely have after the first rotation. LSU is tied with Florida for the No. 3 beam NQS in the country. They can go just as big on beam as Florida can, especially with huge scores from Finnegan and Reagan Campbell at the end of their lineup. Kentucky is being can also be a threat, especially when you consider that Sydney Dukes and Alex Hyland are in their senior year and still have something to prove.
Floor is always a strong suit for Florida, and they will want to use it here in New Orleans as a springboard into their final event. They need floor to be as awesome as possible, so that if vault doesn’t go as planned, they still have the ability to win. Awesome is the default setting for the Florida floor squad though, with more than six gymnasts who have scored 9.9 or higher this season. Both Boren and Thomas have been itching for that perfect-10 here since week one, and while it is harder to score a perfect-10 at a conference championship, since there are more judges, if anyone is up to the task, it’s one of those two. LSU has shown weakness on for this season, so this may be where Florida can make up some ground if they find themselves behind . Howver, the Tigers will have huge routines from Finnegan, Edney, and McKenna Kelly, who have all scored a perfect ten this season. Georgia and Alabama can also put up big numbers on the floor, but haven’t had the consistency of Florida or LSU. Still, Dickson and Sabrina Vega of Georgia and Shallon Olsen and Ariana Guerra from Alabama should be treats to watch.
In the all around, Thomas and Boren are on the shortlist of possible winners. Both have racked up their fair share of all-around titles And weekly honors this season. Thomas and Boren are both in the top 15 in the country and the top five in the conference, but they’ll have to defeat Finnegan of LSU to win the individual crown. Sneed of Georgia and add me of LSU are also both rank higher than boring, oh Thomas stands second only to Finnegan in the SEC. to beat her, Thomas would need to put together each of her routines from start to finish with all the corrections in mind that she’s taken over the course of the season. For Thomas, her most vulnerable places vault where she has struggled on her landings. For Finnegan, vault is also where she’s likely most vulnerable, as she only performs a full and does not have the extra 0.05 and difficulty that any of her competitors do. It will be a tight race, but you better believe that the gators will be in it every step of the way.
Overall, this is the Gators championship to lose. They’ve beaten LSU at Baton Rouge, and though Georgia beat them in Gainesville, Florida is still the more consistent team between the two. Everyone else is just along for the ride at this point, barring disaster, but it will certainly be interesting to see whether Kentucky or Alabama comes in fourth – both teams have had a roller coaster of the year and anything could happen, though neither of them should threaten the top three.