For their 2020 season, the Gator gymnasts’ motto was #NOW, to remind them that nothing is promised and they would have to leave it all on the floor in order to win the championship titles they sought after a disappointing end to the 2019 season left them off the nationals roster. Sadly, the 2020 season would also come to an abrupt end thanks to COVID-19, but now that they’re back in the gym, Florida is not letting off the gas – these athletes still have that fire lit, perhaps burning even brighter than last year, and they are ready to go in just a few short weeks.
Just over a week ago, the Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association (WCGA) released the results of its annual coaches’ poll to determine preseason rankings for the year. For the first time since 2015, the nation’s coaches voted Gator Gymnastics the No. 1 seed in the NCAA, perhaps signaling a change in the wind for the Gators’ title chances. They also have one of the most difficult schedules, as all eight schools in the SEC are ranked in the top 16, all of whom are operating on a conference-only schedule this season as a precaution against COVID-19 exposure.
Around the same time, the Gators had their annual Orange and Blue Intrasquad, though it was closed to the public this year due to COVID-19 protocols. Still, Florida rose to the occasion, elevating the energy level as though it were a spectated event, and had “one of the calmest intrasquads we’ve ever had,” in the words of junior Sydney Johnson-Scharpf. The full intrasquad was not broadcast anywhere and we don’t have all the hot button routines, but we do have a few videos to share from the team!
It’s not just the intrasquad or the coaches’ poll that will inform our predictions for the coming season, though. We’ve dug through social media training clips, interviews, and press releases to form the best, most complete picture possible for what’s to come. Let’s break it down event by event on who and what we expect to see from Gator Gymnastics in 2021!
We didn’t get any official videos on vault released from Orange and Blue, but social media is our friend when it comes to video evidence. As you can see in the first Twitter video above, Nya Reed is working on dialing in her vault landings to improve her Yurchenko 1.5 she’s sported since joining the Gators. She also seems to be doing air awareness/coordination drills – that would be the most likely explanation for the clip of jumping into the pit and catching foam blocks, and that will definitely help in her quest to stick that vault. Savannah Schoenherr and Trinity Thomas’s vaults are also looking good as well, both competing the Y1.5, although Schoenherr’s vault hasn’t appeared in videos of the two most recent intrasquads. Sophomore Payton Richards competed a Y1.5 as well last year, but in recent videos, she’s only showed the full-twisting Yurchenko. Hopefully this downgrade is only precautionary, as was the case with Thomas’s temporary downgrade last year around this time, but unfortunately, due to COVID, we weren’t there to ask the question.
Seniors Megan Skaggs and Alyssa Baumann are also both looking good on vault, with Skaggs showing off both amplitude and toe point in her FTY and Baumann still working to get her Y1.5 consistent enough for competition, as it was definitely still a work in progress last year. Jazmyn Foberg is also back after not seeing much action last season and sitting out in 2018 due to elbow surgery. Vault was the only lineup she made last year, and that FTY is looking pretty good still. She’d be an early lineup option, but it definitely looks more comfortable both in block and landing than last year. Surprisingly, Sydney Johnson-Scharpf was training a Y1.5 earlier this preseason, but all recent videos have shown her sticking with the FTY she’s trained for several years now.
As far as the freshmen go, there is footage of all four of them training vault, but videos of Ellie Lazzari and Alex Magee are scarce. Chloi Clark and Gabbie Gallentine have both shown FTYs on the team’s Instagram account in the last two months, however, based on how little we’ve seen of them, it’s my professional opinion that vault will likely not see freshmen in the top six. Lazzari was training a Y1.5 once upon a time, but she was spotted in a boot a few months ago and hasn’t really been seen on the leg events since then. She is still training, so it’s not cause for enormous concern, but it’s probably enough to require her to proceed with caution.
In the videos on Instagram of the team’s Christmas intrasquad, we saw Johnson-Scharpf, Richards, Baumann, Reed, and Thomas in that order. Schoenherr is the glaringly obvious missing piece there, so adding her in, I’d call that the top six, but I would also expect Skaggs to contend for the opening spot against Johnson-Scharpf. Foberg and Lazzari would be outside choices for me, but not impossibilities.
Our 2021 Gators Vault Lineup: Skaggs, Richards, Baumann, Reed, Schoenherr, Thomas
Alternates: Johnson-Scharpf, Foberg, Lazzari
Any discussion of Gator bars has to begin with the 1-2-3 punch of Skaggs, Schoenherr, and Thomas, and really, their order is pretty interchangeable. They all have gorgeous form, great amplitude on their release skills, and can stick a dismount cold when they’re firing on all cylinders. None of them seem to have made any changes to their routine composition, so it should be same old, same old for these three rockstars. Also likely to return is Richards, who served as the leadoff performer in 2020. She handled that role beautifully as a freshman, so there’s no reason to think that she wouldn’t slide into that role again as a sophomore.
A few long-awaited faces may enter the conversation for this lineup this year. Baumann has been training bars, trying to get into the all-around, for three seasons now. We thought it was going to happen in her sophomore season, but she was injured in pre-meet practice on bars just before the home opener against Missouri. Understandably, that set her back, but she hasn’t given up – her gains on bars have increased year by year, and this year, it may finally be time for her to step into the lineup. She’s retooled her routine some, now training a Jaeger and bail for her release skills and implementing a new double layout dismount. Get excited, Gator fans – all-around Alyssa is finally coming.
She’s not the only one getting those gains on bars, though – Foberg and Leah Clapper have both been seen training bars quite a bit. Foberg was in and out of the lineup as a freshman but hasn’t made it back since then due to injury. If she can return to form, it would be a great asset to the Gators, as her high score on bars is a whopping 9.95. Clapper has also been improving, though her dismount may not be up to par in terms of difficulty requirements to start from a 10.0. We’ve also seen Reed training bars, which I’d classify as unusual activity. She hasn’t even shown bars at Orange and Blue in the past, which is when the team fields all of its depth as it attempts to create two full lineups from the one team. And it hasn’t just been drills or conditioning either – I spotted a Jaeger in late October from her, as though there’s a routine materializing out of thin air for her.
For freshmen potentially joining the lineup, again, all four are training the event, but some are definitely more likely than others. Lazzari seems the most likely choice, with a lovely Tkachev and pak set of releases and gorgeous handstands. Gallentine seems to be going the transition-only route, with a Maloney to pak combo similar to the routine the team loses from Hundley’s graduation, and bars is the most likely place that she would contribute based on pre-college performance. Magee could be a contender if she can up her difficulty a little bit, and Clark is working on a Gienger/bail set that looks vastly improved from her J.O. days.
At the Christmas intrasquad, we saw Baumann, Lazzari, Skaggs, Schoenherr, and Thomas, in that order. If we assume Richards will slide into the leadoff spot as she did last year, that’s the final six. I’d consider Gallentine, Foberg, and Clapper as possibilities, with Magee an outside pick if she can upgrade her dismount.
Our 2021 Gators Bars Lineup: Richards, Baumann, Lazzari, Skaggs, Schoenherr, Thomas
Alternates: Gallentine, Foberg, Clapper
Returners on beam will be a little less obvious, perhaps, than bars. Thomas and Baumann are almost assuredly the anchor combination once again. Something interesting of note that I found in some training videos – both of them were training new series earlier in preseason, with Thomas doing a side aerial to layout stepout and Baumann a front aerial to side aerial that may or may not have gotten credit as a series if done in competition. However, these combos have not materialized in their competition routines, as both showed full routines at Orange and Blue that did not include those alternate series.
Aside from the two of them Skaggs, Johnson-Scharpf, Clapper, and Richards all have played a part in the Gators’ beam team before. Skaggs in particular looks like a strong choice for this year, looking confident and cool every routine we’ve seen. Head coach Jenny Rowland mentioned to us last season that Skaggs was dealing with some nagging injuries that were keeping her out of beam, and hinted that she was hoping to help save Skaggs for her senior year. If that’s still the case, well, it’s time to let her run with it! Johnson-Scharpf is also looking confident and secure, and Rowland’s confidence in her only grew throughout last season. Clapper and Richards are also looking good, both sporting triple series and being patient with themselves.
But here too, there are some interesting developments – Schoenherr, Reed, and Halley Taylor have all been seen training beam far more than I expected. Both Schoenherr and Reed learned new side somis to put into their routines, as though they’re trying to upgrade and compete for the lineup. My theory on this is that Rowland and the other coaches are preparing the team for the eventuality that someone, if not multiple people, on the team will not be able to compete at various points throughout the season. Whether anyone on the team actually contracts COVID-19 or not, many of them may have to quarantine for a time because of potential exposure from their lives outside the gym, so it would be wise to ensure the team has as much depth as humanly possible to keep from having to field too few routines in a meet. Better to count a fall or a routine that doesn’t start from 10.0 than a 0, after all.
Of the freshmen, again, Lazzari seems the likeliest candidate to make the lineup. Her ankle doesn’t seem to be impeding her adjustment to collegiate gymnastics at all – she seems to be taking to it well and maintaining the confidence and poise she had throughout her J.O. and elite careers. Gallentine, too, looks to have a workable routine, though we’ve seen much less of it than Lazzari’s. Magee is also working on a beam routine, which hadn’t been on my radar until recently. However, she has a mount that the O-Dome will love – a split handstand mount which she then rotates to put one foot down, goes to a scale, and then stands up. Check out this highlight from her Instagram page – tap to the next-to-last clip to see her awesome mount!
In videos from the Christmas intrasquad, we saw Johnson-Scharpf, Skaggs, Thomas, Baumann, Richards, in that order. I don’t think that’ll be the order they compete in, but I would guess those five are in the lineup barring disaster or a miracle from an outside pick. For the sixth, my guess is either Clapper or Lazzari, and I think it will really come down to a game-time decision on Rowland’s part. I’ve watched the beam team warm up seven or eight gymnasts in pre-meet practice so that she can see who’s ready at that exact moment, and I foresee that phenomenon being pretty common in 2021. I think we could also see Schoenherr or Gallentine getting the call, particularly if Schoenherr keeps working on that gorgeous triple series in the above video.
Our 2021 Gators Beam Lineup: Skaggs, Richards, Clapper, Johnson-Scharpf, Thomas, Baumann
Alternates: Lazzari, Gallentine, Schoenherr
Florida’s communications team has done a great job showing off what’s coming on floor this year through social media. This great highlight on their Instagram page will show you all the Gator Chomps coming to floor exercise in 2021, and there’s one for every single gymnast on the roster.
Thomas, Reed, Baumann, and Richards are almost sure locks again on floor this year. Thomas and Reed are both showstopping performers, with enormous double layouts and attitude to spare. Thomas has actually been training a full-twisting DLO, but my guess is that that’s meant for her elite repertoire for her run at Tokyo, not intended for the O-Dome. Baumann is still training a DLO, and though tumbling coach Adrian Burde is still spotting her nearly every time, it’s looking stronger this year than in the past.
But Richards is the real gem here – her routine seems like a continuation of Hundley’s classic rock routine last season, but with a distinctly Gainesville flavor. A large portion of her music is Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down,” and she even does the arm waving on the “He-ey baby” lyric that is a staple at UF football games. Reed even quipped in practice, “Are we at a football game or a gymnastics meet?!” Richards is sure to have the O-Dome singing along with her at top volume, no matter how few fans are allowed in. My only complaint about this routine is that the ending choreography feels a little anticlimactic; otherwise, it’s one for the Florida history books, in my opinion.
The last two spots are going to be a bit of a toss-up. I favor Johnson-Scharpf for one of them, as she was really hitting her stride last season. She looks as sassy as ever, and her double arabian is in way better shape than last season. She’s also been spotted training a DLO, a piked double arabian, and all sorts of other fun tricks, but it appears she’s sticking with the double arabian for season, and she’s gotten it to the point where Burde is fist-pumping when she lands because it looks so solid.
Schoenherr is also a possibility, as she’s been in and out of the floor lineup the last two years. From the snippets we’ve seen, it appears she’s keeping her same routine from last season musically, but she may be toying with the tumbling passes. The front double full she attempted in preseason last year was giving her some trouble – it was part of why she wasn’t consistently in the floor lineup in 2020. This year, videos have seen her working both a triple full, a la Gator great Alex McMurtry, and a full in, which seemed to be the choice she was originally trying to get away from with the double full. If her tumbling isn’t locked in, it could keep her out of the lineup, at least in the early part of the season. Check out this Instagram highlight of hers to see the triple full and full in almost back to back – they’re in the third to last and last clip of the series.
Others that might be considered of the veterans include Clapper, Foberg, and Taylor. Clapper looks more and more like a performer every time I see her (though there’s definitely still room for growth), and her floor routine for this year is indicative of that. It’s a sassier departure for her, and it has lots of great moments for her musicality to shine through. Foberg is also tumbling again, including an unspotted DLO that I was very surprised to see looking so good. Taylor has served as a depth option for the last two years on floor, though competition is still very stiff for her, considering the level of difficulty her teammates are all reaching for and the heavy spot she’s still getting from Burde on her full-in.
As far as the freshmen go, I think it’s sadly unlikely we’ll see any of them crack the top six here. Lazzari would’ve made a great addition, with several different E passes and elegant dance in her repertoire, but whatever she did to her ankle seems to be keeping her from the leg events for the time being. Clark competed floor at Orange and Blue and the Christmas intrasquad, but she looks like some of her tumbling passes may still be a little new and unsteady under her feet.
Taking a look at the Christmas intrasquad, we saw Clapper, Richards, Johnson-Scharpf, Baumann, Reed, and Thomas, in that order, with Taylor and Clark both shown after. I’d say those first six are highly likely to be the final lineup, with Schoenherr fighting Clapper for that first spot. Foberg would be a great addition if she’s healthy enough, as would Lazzari, and Clark would be an outside choice for me.
Our 2021 Gators Floor Lineup: Johnson-Scharpf, Schoenherr, Reed, Richards, Thomas, Baumann
Alternates: Clapper, Foberg, Lazzari
Overall, the Gators’ outlook for 2021 is pretty bright. The team lost some major routines from 2020’s seniors, so it won’t be any small feat to recoup those scores, but I think this team has the depth and the new additions to do just that. Florida was on track for a historic season last year, and this year will likely be a continuation of that… provided season goes according to plan. Rowland and her team seem to be taking smart precautions in the gym in terms of COVID-19, but no one can plan for every possible point of exposure, and there’s only so much control a team has over how their opponents come into their space. Fans should be prepared for the possibility that this season may also be disrupted by the pandemic, so I’m not going to jinx it – I’m not counting our medals before they hatch. The Gators are poised for a spectacular season. And that’s where we’ll leave it.
Caroline Medley Freeman is our Gymnastics beat writer at Chomp Talk. She will be covering meets from home in Virginia this coming season, but plans to work with editor-in-chief Brian Fox, Jr. to make meet coverage as in depth and live as possible while following all COVID-19 guidelines. Thanks for your continued support of our coverage!