Photo by Benjamin Fox /

In what could be considered their most triumphant meet of the season, Gator Gymnastics won at Penn State with an enormous team total of 198.1. Accolades and records have abounded for this team throughout the season, and this meet added yet another feather to its cap – 197.940 is Florida’s new NQS after this weekend, breaking the program record for highest NQS.

Competing in home territory for star and Pennsylvania native Trinity Thomas, the Gators were pretty pumped as the meet began. Barring disaster, this meet was always going to be a win for this team, so head coach Jenny Rowland took that extra breathing room as an opportunity to explore the depth of the team’s lineups some more by mixing around the order and switching a few gymnasts in and out of some events. Bars was a perfect example, as the lineup contained all the same competitors as usual, but Payton Richards was moved to the anchor position instead of serving as leadoff.

While this didn’t necessarily change anyone’s scoring potential, it definitely changed the team’s energy, especially after new leadoff Amelia Hundley made an unfortunate error and swung over the wrong way on a handstand, causing her to come off the bar. The Gators have had very few pressure situations on bars so far this season, so it was great to see them bounce back and put up five solid scores after Hundley’s fall. Rowland has said in the past that every fall gives the rest of the lineup an opportunity to step up and “have each others’ backs, to compete with confidence and compete what they know that they do in the gym every day.”

The bars squad did exactly that last night – each team member stepped up to the mat, competed a clean set, and did what they knew they could do. Rachel Gowey was the first to do so, following Hundley with a big press of the reset button for a huge 9.925. Savannah Schoenherr and Trinity Thomas were also highlights, as always, scoring a pair of 9.95s for their detailed, patient efforts. Thomas came so close to perfection that the only thing she was deducted for was the slide back on her dismount.

Vault also saw some lineup shakeup, as Richards was taken out to rest and Nya Reed returned to the lineup after several weeks of illness. Sierra Alexander became the first Gator of the night to achieve perfection, earning a 9.95 – the highest score possible for the vault she competes, a Yurchenko full. This was the second such mark for Alexander this season, showing that she may be capable of this kind of score consistently – that could be huge for Florida’s vault score.

The vault rotation wasn’t without its adversity, either. Alyssa Baumann had kind of a stutter step landing, only earning 9.725, and Reed’s first vault in over a month didn’t go so well: she had to safety roll out of her Y1.5 after overpowering it so much she almost fell forward. However, Schoenherr and Thomas came back to finish out the lineup with a pair of gorgeous Y1.5s, both with small hops, for a 9.875 and 9.9 respectively.

The biggest takeaway from vault this week is that Florida can be competitive, but the whole squad has to turn it on on the same night. In terms of comparison between the Gators and their main competitor for the national title, the Oklahoma Sooners, their biggest weakness thus far has been vault. If everyone can compete like Alexander and Thomas did last night, there’s a way higher chance that Florida can actually take the title, but if the Gators have to count any flubbed vault landings at nationals, they’d hand Oklahoma a lead they likely wouldn’t be able to come back from.

Floor saw a massive lineup shakeup, with Hundley, Richards, and Johnson-Scharpf all resting while Halley Taylor and Schoenherr both made their competitive debuts. Gowey got the nod for the leadoff spot this week, earning an enormous 9.925, a new career high for her. Taylor’s competitive debut featured a strong full-in, adding another E pass to the long list of difficulty the Gators are capable of, and a stuck double pike, though her double salto pass in between was low, so she only scored a 9.75. Schoenherr’s first competitive routine followed, and despite a bouncy start with her double tuck, she earned a 9.925 for her efforts – another new career high! Reed redeemed herself after difficulties last week at Georgia, earning a 9.925 as well. Baumann was the anchor as usual, closing out the night with a fourth 9.925 for the Gators. The team’s 49.7 floor total marked a new season high, both on floor and for any event total.

But it was Thomas who was finally rewarded with her perfect 10.0 after she nailed all of her tumbling passes and showed off every musical moment of her engaging, intricate choreography. The arena was absolutely electric throughout her routine, with both Gator fans and Pennsylvanians alike cheering for her at top volume. Though some Gator fans may be disappointed they didn’t get to see Thomas’s first floor 10.0 at home, it’s a safe bet that Thomas is glad that this is where it happened – her whole family and her home gym were all in attendance to share this moment with her. “I was really excited to come back home for the first time in my entire career. So many people were here to support me and it was really great to perform for them tonight,” she told the York Dispatch. Young gymnasts swarmed her after the competition, and Thomas was more than happy to take pictures and sign autographs.

Beam was a bit of a rollercoaster for the Gators, but they still continued their streak of scoring 49.5 or better on beam, making it a whopping seven weeks in a row that they’ve achieved that mark. That will be a hard record for anyone to beat in the future, for sure. Richards led off with a solid 9.9 to start things off, and though Hundley had some bobbles for just a 9.8, Baumann reset the vibe with a rock solid performance and earned a 9.95. This set Gowey up to earn her first-ever perfect 10.0, a mark well-deserved after four years of impeccable beam work and a fabulous routine this week.

However, after Gowey, disaster struck Thomas’s routine – the sophomore missed her punch on her beam dismount, only earning her a 9.675 for a low and wonky landing with several steps. Luckily, Clapper was calm and collected in the anchor spot, allowing the team to drop Thomas’s score in favor of Clapper’s 9.925.

Since this meet was not on a tight timetable for television broadcasting, the Gators had the opportunity to let several athletes exhibition throughout the night, in a continued exploration of the team’s incredible depth. Clapper showed a bars set that could easily slot into the early lineup, Jazmyn Foberg showed her full that has made the lineup once before this season, and Skaggs showed that she could be ready to go on beam at the drop of a hat. The depth on this team continues to be an asset to it, as Rowland can rest athletes when she needs to without worrying about how she’ll fill out a full lineup or being concerned about scores taking a hit.

Despite the beam error, Thomas still won the all-around handily, with a 39.525, as well as floor and a share of the bars title. Schoenherr tied her for that bars title, while Gowey took beam and Alexander took vault. The Gators scored an enormous 198.1, equaling Oklahoma’s total from this week and becoming the only other team to tally three 198+ scores this season. While there were a few questionable scores here and there, the fact that Florida scored that number away at a school in a conference known for lowball scoring means that this is a very realistic picture for what it’s capable of in postseason. That’s good news for both fans and the team: it means that the Gators have what it takes to win. They just need to keep cranking out performances like these.

Keep an eye out in the next few days for a special analysis feature about Florida’s chances against Oklahoma and the other national title contenders by the numbers. Follow @mycluttereddesk for all your gymnastics news and @ChompTalk for all your Florida athletics news on Twitter – we’ll see you for senior night this Friday, March 13 in O-Dome against TWU.

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