Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

In a crucial week in college gymnastics, the Gators pulled out the W over the Kentucky Wildcats with a solid road score, a critical box to check to maintain their high national ranking.

This week, across the nation, NCAA gymnastics rankings switched over to National Qualifying Score (NQS) format rather than simple average. NQS is calculated by taking a team’s three best road scores and its three remaining best scores, regardless of location, dropping the highest score of those six, and averaging the remaining five. This week’s meet against Kentucky marked the Gators’ third road meet of the season, so this score would have to be counted in the NQS formula. With one weak outing on the road already against Georgia, the Gators needed a big score in Lexington to maintain a top-five national ranking, and they also needed a win to secure at least a share of the SEC regular season title, an honor they’ve won for the last four seasons. Florida was able to pull out a strong result, but it did not come without its challenges.

As the away team, Florida started on bars, and it was not the start the team might have hoped for. Some unusual missed opportunities and steps on dismounts kept most of the team in the 9.8 range, including typical standout seniors Trinity Thomas and Savannah Schoenherr, and freshman Leanne Wong slung her double layout dismount out a little too far and finished with only a 9.725. Florida began the meet with just its second-lowest bars score of the season at 49.15, three full tenths behind Kentucky, who had a strong vault rotation for a season-high 49.45.

The second rotation showed promise of a turn-around, though, as the Gators used what we expect to be their postseason vault lineup: Megan Skaggs with her near-perfect Yurchenko full, followed by a full bevy of 10.0 start value vaults from Schoenherr, Wong, Nya Reed, Thomas, and Sloane Blakely. Wong’s Podkopayeva seems to be getting cleaner as the season goes on, with the pike shape more discernible in the air and the landing more controlled. She earned a 9.9 for her efforts this week, as did everyone in the lineup whose score was counted, except Blakely, who returned her Yurchenko 1.5 for a career-high 9.925. Florida earned a 49.525 for its efforts on vault, marking the second week in a row over 49.5 on the event and the third vault score over that mark this season. Kentucky, meanwhile, had a strong showing on bars with a 49.4, though the Cats’ lack of stuck landings allowed the Gators a little room to catch up. After two, the Gators trailed 98.675 to Kentucky’s 98.85.

Floor, as usual, was a strong event for the Gators, and we saw another depth option return in Payton Richards. While she only scored a 9.75 here, it’s good to see her back in competition after being ill for much of the season so far and having a fall at Missouri two weeks ago. This week, she looked like a far more viable option as a seventh routine for the Gators, which is particularly important considering the injuries to Ellie Lazzari and Halley Taylor. Reed and Thomas packed another strong one-two punch in the later half of the lineup for a 9.95 and 10.0, respectively, and this marked Thomas’s fifth 10.0 of the season and the 12th overall in her career. With a 49.35 on the event, the Gators finished rotation three with a 148.025, pulling past Kentucky, whose beam bobbles brought them to a 147.975.

In the final rotation, Florida sealed the deal on beam, though a few stalwarts did have some uncharacteristic errors. Alyssa Baumann was limited to only a 9.85 after a bobble on her front aerial and a step on her dismount, and Leah Clapper had a break at the hips on her series, also keeping her at a 9.85. However, Blakely, Skaggs, and Thomas were all able to bring out stellar scores – 9.925, 9.95, and 9.975, respectively – to earn a stellar 49.55, the fourth beam mark over a 49.5 for the Gators this season. This brought them up to a 197.575, besting Kentucky by over two tenths. The Cats ended up with a 197.35 after getting a little stuck in the 9.8s on floor and having to drop a fall from Ashlyn LaClair rather than one of their lower hit scores.

With a perfect 10.0 on floor and a 9.975 on beam, Thomas earned the all-around crown with a massive 39.7, making three consecutive weeks that her all-around score has been 39.6 or higher – and that’s all the weeks she’s even competed all four events. Though her three scores in AA are not enough for an NQS, several Gators are individually ranked in the top 25 even with the calculation changeover. Thomas and Reed are ranked No. 6 and No. 7 on vault, respectively, for their stellar performances thus far this season. Thomas is also ranked No. 9 on bars, while Wong and Schoenherr are both tied at No. 17 and Skaggs comes in at No. 23. On beam, Skaggs is the highest-ranked Gator at No. 15, with Clapper right behind at No. 16 and Blakely at No. 21. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the lineup has rotated so much and they’ve only had three away meets, there are no Gators ranked in NQS on floor or in the all-around yet.

However, the 197.575 the team scored was enough to put Florida into fourth in the nation with the new NQS calculations. This Friday, they’ll return home to Gainesville to face No. 3 Oklahoma for senior night, where they’ll need better than a 197.675 in order to better their NQS. However, I would think that on senior night against another top five team, especially a former national champion like Oklahoma, the Gators will call a win a win, even if it doesn’t change the ranking picture.

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