Florida gymnastics set its highest score in an opening meet in program history last Friday at Auburn. Florida’s 197.5 will be an away score it’ll be happy to carry with them well into the season as RQS approaches, and it also maintains the No. 1 ranking in the nation for the Gators.
Despite the strong score, the Gators still have significant room for improvement, particularly on bars and floor. So let’s break it down, event by event, so we can see how Florida did against Auburn and predict how the Gators will fare against Georgia this Friday.
The Gators started on bars, as it was an away meet, and it wasn’t exactly the start they would have hoped for. Unexpectedly, Megan Skaggs is serving as the lineup lead-off for the moment, and she had some uncharacteristic trouble in her routine, particularly on her dismount where she pinged off and came very close to hitting the bar. Freshman Gabbie Gallentine seemed to have her nerves get to her, which caused her to have to repeat some elements on the low bar in order to stay on and continue her routine.
However, fellow freshman Ellie Lazzari was able to keep an even keel and hit the reset button, fighting through for a 9.725. Savannah Schoenherr and Trinity Thomas followed with pretty normal routines for them, getting things back on track for the Gators. And then in another surprising move, Leah Clapper closed out the lineup with a pretty solid routine. It won’t be the anchor routine forever, but based on prior conversations with the coaches, we know that Clapper prefers the six spot when she’s nervous, because it takes some of the pressure off of her and helps her not to get in her head. Though she did retain some pressure because the team needed to drop Gallentine’s 9.35, she hit a pretty solid routine for a 9.875 – a great debut score, especially considering her dismount isn’t up to the typical difficulty we see from the Gators.
We saw a promising exhibition routine from freshman Chloi Clark as well. At meets that aren’t on a strict time schedule for TV broadcast, gymnasts are often given the opportunity to exhibit a routine outside of the lineup six. It was great to see her able to get out there and put up another solid option for the Gators, especially after all the work we know she’s put into her bars.
We also need to talk about what we didn’t see, though. Payton Richards is still working back from a slower-paced preseason, so she is not yet ready to rejoin the bar lineup. Once she does, it’s very likely that she’ll retake her lead-off spot, moving Skaggs back to the back half of the lineup and bumping either Clapper or Gallentine out of the top six. Alyssa Baumann is also still trying to break into the lineup, and if she can, I think she’ll be part of the preferred six.
Based on what we know about the rivalry between Baumann and her sister Rachel, who competes for Georgia, and the fact that Rachel is also trying to break into the all-around, I’m going to speculate and say that both Baumann sisters will attempt AA this coming Friday. If I’m correct, then the Florida bars lineup will shift, but if not, then I don’t expect any other changes, and it’ll look identical to the lineup at Auburn.
Rivalry Night Bars Lineup: Skaggs, Gallentine, Lazzari, Baumann, Schoenherr, Thomas
Despite the rocky start on bars, the Gators showed up for vault, dialing in landings like we were at the end of regular season! Richards stuck to the Yurchenko full, as we discussed in preseason, and was joined by Skaggs and Lazzari in the super-clean Y-full club. All three scored 9.875 or better, with Skaggs dropping hers in like a dart for the first stuck landing of the rotation in the 3 spot. Schoenherr then kicked off the second half of the lineup with a Yurchenko 1.5, also scoring a 9.875, and Nya Reed followed up with a Y1.5 of her own that got the most distance I’ve ever seen from her for a 9.9.
Thomas was absolutely the highlight though. We’ve talked in seasons past about how her Y1.5 would get a perfect 10.0 easily if she could only find the landing, and it’s been her “weakest” event thus far in NCAA competition because she hasn’t been able to stick. Well, Gator fans – her curse is over. She stuck that vault cold in Auburn Arena, showing that all her hard work can pay off, and that anyone planning to challenge her AA dominance this year had better up their game, because she’s making that weakness into a strength. The team’s 49.55 vault score was the program’s highest since 2017 – an indicator of good things to come for a team whose vault was its biggest weakness the last time it saw Nationals.
We also saw clean Y-fulls in exhibition from Sydney Johnson-Scharpf and Baumann, which was a bit of a surprise, as we were only aware that Baumann was training the Y1.5. Both had landing adjustments, Baumann especially, but that’s likely due to how much she’s trained her harder vault and is therefore used to needing more power upon takeoff. As mentioned in the previous section, I am predicting Baumann’s first attempt at all-around in NCAA to come next week, so whether she does the full or the 1.5, I think she’ll be in the lineup. Otherwise, I don’t think there are any changes necessary – this lineup is already doing what it needs to do.
Rivalry Night Vault Lineup: Skaggs, Lazzari, Baumann, Schoenherr, Reed, Thomas
After vault, the Gators went to floor, and despite some mishaps, debuted seven of its best floor routines to date. The entire coaching team echoed in our panel interview last week the opinion that volunteer assistant Jeremy James Miranda had once again outdone himself with this year’s routines, and now that we’ve seen them, we can safely say we agree. The lineup started with another surprise, as Clapper led off the rotation for a 9.7. Her routine isn’t the most difficult or explosive, but it was a steady start that Florida will be able to build on as the season goes. Richards followed with a classic rock routine that’s more likely to be the leadoff once all athletes are healthy, earning a 9.85 for her Tom Petty tribute and her powerful tumbling. Johnson-Scharpf stepped into the third slot with a routine that she mostly choreographed herself with her mom at home in quarantine this summer, showing off a much-improved double arabian for her first tumbling pass and choreorgaphy that’s sure to get Gator Nation involved when she performs at home.
In an unusual turn of events, head coach Jenny Rowland set the lineup with Baumann in the fourth spot, when in the past she’s been set at the end of the rotation, whether in an effort to lift pressure off of her shoulders or to boost her score. Unfortunately, this change didn’t have the best result, as Baumann overcooked her last pass, a double pike, and ended up having to roll out of it and go out of bounds, an uncharacteristic mistake for her.
Still, Reed and Thomas stepped up and covered for her, allowing the team to drop her score. And they did it with style, earning a 9.925 and 9.95 respectively. Both have fantastic new routines this year and are somehow showing even more power than in the past, with their opening double layouts looking even easier than any previous performance. We know Thomas has been training a full-twisting DLO, but Reed hasn’t trained anything more that we know of, so the fact that she looks to be in such great tumbling shape is very exciting for her chances at a perfect 10.0 this year. It also earned her a Co-Specialist of the Week honor in the SEC this week!
We also saw an exhibition from Halley Taylor, who has been bubbling under the top six since her freshman year. It was awesome to see her get out there and get some more competition experience, but I don’t expect that she’ll replace any of the six from this meet. The entrance fans should be awaiting is Lazzari, but the Achilles pain that assistant coach Adrian Burde referred to in our panel interview is still going to keep her out of that lineup for the time being. Schoenherr and Skaggs are also trying to break into this lineup, though not seeing them even exhibit does have some concerning implications. Unless one of them has a breakthrough in practice this week and is feeling up to it, the top six will stay the same this coming week.
Rivalry Night Floor Lineup: Clapper, Richards, Johnson-Scharpf, Baumann, Reed, Thomas
Finally, the Gators went to beam to seal the deal, starting off with Richards, stepping into the lead-off slot as she was called to do on occasion last season. Her triple series and beaming presence earned her a 9.875 and set the tone for a fantastic night on beam for Florida. Johnson-Scharpf followed up, and despite a small foot miss at the end of her series, she didn’t have a single bobble and earned a 9.9. Lazzari, as in her other events, went third and absolutely knocked it out of the park! She earned a massive 9.95 for her beam debut, the best score for a beam debut in program history.
Clapper had a significant break at the hips after her series but fought to stay on, scoring a 9.8 – perhaps a little generous, but it was one of the only real deductions in the routine, as the rest was quite clean. Baumann came back with a vengeance in the five spot, giving us a little bit of angry beam after her floor flub to earn a 9.925. And Thomas closed out the Gators’ meet with a whopping 9.95, with the only deduction I could see taken was a small foot adjustment on her dismount. Her final all-around score tallied up to a massive 39.75, placing her No. 1 overall in the nation in the all-around and earning her the latest in a round dozen Gymnast of the Week honors over the course of her career.
We saw on broadcast a beam exhibition from Skaggs, which was expected, as she’s hoping to return to that lineup and it’s much easier on her nagging injuries than floor. Schoenherr also apparently performed an exhibition routine on beam, and I am upset that the SEC+ broadcast cut off before we got to see it. While I would love to see either of them in the lineup, I think this week’s squad did so well that I don’t think they’ll mess with a good thing.
Rivalry Night Beam Lineup: Richards, Johnson-Scharpf, Lazzari, Clapper, Baumann, Thomas
If you’ve gleaned anything from this recap and preview exercise, you should know that this team didn’t come to play, they came to win. The Gators will be out for revenge against Georgia after the Gymdogs eked out a win the last time these teams faced off in the O-Dome, and facing them in the home opener will heighten the drama even more. If you’re in Gainesville and get tickets, you’d better not miss this meet, and if not, you’d better be glued to your TV watching ESPN2 (or refreshing my liveblog here) at 7pm this Friday night, because Florida v. Georgia is not to be missed!