In what essentially became an LSU home meet, Gator Gymnastics had an incredible night at SEC Championships in New Orleans, though in the end, they finished second overall. Florida had a strong first two rotations, leading by two tenths after the first half of the meet. But after some minor issues on floor and a few missed opportunities on vault, LSU was able to overcome the deficit and take the title by just over 0.1.
The Gators began their night on bars and were clearly amped up and ready to go. Amelia Hundley, Savannah Schoenherr and Megan Skaggs all scored 9.9 or higher, but the final two routines were not able to build on the strong scoring in the 2-4 slots. LSU started on vault as the top seed of the competition, earning three 9.9 scores of their own from Sarah Finnegan, Ruby Harrold and McKenna Kelley. Neither team nailed every landing, but the Gators’ aggressive attack and dynamic release skills were able to edge out LSU’s performance on vault, earning Florida half a tenth more to take the lead.
Beam was even better for Florida, as the team set an SEC record for highest beam total in the competitions history. Three gators earned 9.95 to tie for the event title: Skaggs, Rachel Gowey and Alyssa Baumann. Hundley also earned a 9.9 in the lead off position, setting the rest of her team up for great scores. Head coach Jenny Rowland praised her teams passion and attack on the event, saying, “their confidence and laser focus was just indescribable. To see that fight, to see that passion from them just gave me goosebumps the whole rotation.” Meanwhile, LSU went to bars. Their first few routines got stuck at 9.85 or lower, but Kennedy Edney, Lexi Priessman and Sarah Finnegan all stepped up and scored progressively higher above 9.9 at the end of the rotation. Despite the Tigers best effort’s, the Gators pulled away at the halfway point with a 0.2 lead.
Floor is where things started to come apart. A botched two-salto Pass meant Skaggs was limited to just a 9.525, while freshman Nya Reed overdid her double layout just a tad and went out of bounds. Meanwhile, LSU also knocked it out of the park on beam, with A 9.9 from Christina Desiderio and the leadoff spot and a 9.95 from Finnegan in the anchor spot. After the third rotation, LSU had begun to close the gap, but not by much. Florida hung onto its lead thanks to stellar performances from the back half of the lineup: Boren, Thomas and Baumann.
It all came down to the final rotation, where both Florida and LSU went to the events where they have struggled this season: vault and floor, respectively. Compared to the beginning of the season, Florida is much improved on vault. However, compared to the last time they competed, the gators did not live up to expectations. The opening fulls from Skaggs and Alexander were not as secure on the landings, and Schoenherr had a big hop. The one bright spot was Thomas, who came so close to sticking her Yurchenko 1.5, earning a 9.95 and winning the vault title for the meet. LSU, on the other hand, continued its upward trend and made quite the statement on floor. All of their counting scores were 9.875 or higher, and Finnegan earned a perfect-10 for her elegant, technically sound routine. Though she was not the last performer, because Florida had finished on vault quite quickly, the deal was sealed after receiving Finnegan’s score. Kelly was then able to perform without pressure, almost like a victory lap. The gators ended up a mere 0.15 behind the tigers, earning second as a team in addition to many individual accolades.
After the meet, Rowland could not emphasize enough how proud she was of her team. “There are still little things here and little things there, but overall I think they handled themselves very well… this is something that we’re going to take away and remember for a little bit. I think it’s only going to help push us to get that much better before the end of the season.”
When asked about what the team will take back to the gym with them in practice leading up to regionals, Rowland said that she didn’t feel there was one thing in particular that is keeping them down. “really it’s just everybody putting it together. We need to make sure that our first person up sets the tone for the event… there’s always little things to work on. But nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing that I feel like this team won’t be ready to get back in the gym and improve upon.”
The Gators find out Monday where they will head for the regionals competition, which will determine the competitors at nationals. They will likely maintain their No. 4 ranking in the country, which we expect will likely send them to compete at Oregon State University.
One fact to keep in mind as post season continues: there will only be four teams on the floor for finals at nationals this year. If that field was decided by the top scorers at conference championships this weekend across the country, LSU and Florida would both make the cut. The title fight is not over yet – but after seeing what LSU is now capable of, Florida can be ready.