It’s a fight to the finish for these two orange and blue teams, as tonight, Florida heads to Auburn to try to hang onto the SEC regular season title outright!
The Gators have just one meet left in SEC competition to count wins over the entire conference, and the Tigers are last on the list to conquer. Led by 10.0 machine Trinity Thomas and a sizable group of strong upperclassmen, this team has won top ten matchup after top ten matchup this season, so there’s little reason to think this time won’t be the same. That doesn’t mean this won’t be an exciting meet though – Auburn won’t go down without a fight, and there are several key storylines to follow aside from the outcome.
Auburn’s rise this season has been nothing short of magical. 2021 Olympic gold medalist Sunisa Lee is ranked in the top 15 on every event except vault: second on bars, third on beam, and No. 13 on floor. But adding Lee was really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Tigers’ success this year; seniors Derrian Gobourne and Drew Watson have been consistent scoring leaders, and freshman Sophia Groth has also impressed, refusing to be overshadowed by her Olympian classmate. Watson is ranked No. 11 on vault, Groth is No. 8 on beam, and Gobourne is No. 8 on floor. Due to Florida’s more rotational lineup strategy, Auburn actually has more individuals ranked in the top 15 on individual events than Florida does!
Whether the Gators win or lose, this meet plays an important role in their National Qualifying Score (NQS), explained in our recap a few weeks ago. This away meet will hopefully allow them to drop the low score from the meet at Georgia out of the calculation equation altogether, and if they can equal even their lowest team score from February, it could raise the team’s NQS by over a tenth. If my math is correct, a 197.725 tonight would put the Gators past Oklahoma, if the Sooners don’t also improve their numbers.
In terms of stories outside the standings, there is the ever-elusive quest for perfection, sought by many at this meet. Four Gators on this squad have already reached the elusive 10.0 mark in the past, three just this season, and many others have come very close. Seniors might consider tonight their last chance to reach it, as postseason scoring is often more scrutinizing and next week’s meet against NCSU and Rutgers may skew lower due to conference scoring differentials. Keep an eye on Alyssa Baumann, Megan Skaggs, and Savannah Schoenherr to see if they can catch a taste of that perfection tonight. It’s also Auburn’s senior night, so expect high scores for the Tigers as well. Derrian Gobourne has been close on floor so many times – don’t be surprised if tonight is her night!
There’s also the story of skills – last week, Lee debuted perhaps the hardest bar routine ever performed in collegiate gymnastics, and she’s working on upgrading a new vault she never even competed in elite. While Leanne Wong is doing something similar with her Podkopayeva vault, and other Gators certainly boast impressive skills, Lee’s bar routine alone sets her in a class apart in terms of difficulty. The collegiate Code of Points doesn’t give extra credit for extra difficulty past a certain point, but nonetheless, many would consider it justified to be a little more lenient with her execution deductions because she’s attempting such hard skills. Keep an eye on those bars scores, in particular Lee’s compared to an equally clean routine from someone like Thomas, to see where the judges land on that debate this week.
The action starts soon on SECN+, but if you don’t have access for any reason, we’ve got the play by play for you right here! The meet begins at 8pm ET, in just a few minutes.
7:50pm: Looks like Lee is warming up her Nabieva to pak salto, the first half of the incredibly difficult connection that she debuted last week!
8:02pm: Let’s get it started!
Groth, VT: Yurchenko full, looked stuck from here! Commentator says something about six 10.0 starts but that’s clearly false.
Blakely, UB: Good handstands to start. Maloney to pak are both clean, van Leeuwen is good, if a little muscled out of it. Great final handstands, double front STUCK! What a start for Sloane!
8:04pm: Stevens, VT: Y1.5, little hop in place, some knees in the air. But wow! That was her first 1.5 this season, that’s impressive.
McCusker, UB: Good opening handstand. Maloney to pak, legs glued together, gorgeous. Form breaks on her handstands on the low bar, and she comes off the bar! Oh no! She resets, van Leeuwen looked fine, stalder to double tuck, deep squat and big lunge forward. Oof. The team will need to have her back here.
8:06pm: Hubbard, VT: Y1.5, big hop forward, some knees in the air again, more noticeable than Stevens in real time.
Schoenherr, UB: Good first handstands. Jaeger is great, almost goes over on a handstand but waits for it. Transition to low is good. Double front half out, step forward.
8:08pm: Gobourne, VT: Y1.5, little stutter step forward, gorgeous dynamics though! Much cleaner in the legs than the last few.
Skaggs, UB: Tkachev to pak, both gorgeous! A little shy on the last handstand maybe? DLO, little slide back. Definitely a good reset.
8:10pm: Watson, VT: Y1.5, came in short and had to take a cross-step behind herself to catch her balance. Pretty deep knee bend too.
Thomas, UB: Good opening handstand. Maloney to pak, both solid. Good low bar handstands. van Leeuwen is nice. DLO dismount, little bounce back. Won’t be a perfect score but should be high!
8:12pm: Lee, VT: Yhalf on, layout half off – she’s already added a half twist since last week! Body position pretty good in the air, big bounce back on the landing.
Wong, UB: Great first handstand. Maloney just floats, little leg sep on the pak. Good low bar handstands. DLO dismount, has to take a deep knee bend to stay put but sticks it!
AFTER ONE: UF 49.525, AUB 49.5
After the first rotation, it’s closer than I expected! Commentating was a little bit all over the place, and score as a whole felt a little high?
8:20pm: Rotation two time!
Skaggs, VT: Yfull, STUCK! Have a night, Megan!
Sabado, UB: Tkachev is good, some leg sep on the transition. DLO dismount stuck!
8:23pm: Schoenherr, VT: Y1.5, OOH almost stuck it, tried to play it off like a stick but I don’t think I’d give it to her. One of her best though, wow.
Groth, UB: Good first handstand. Ray, nice. Pak is a little whippy but legs are clean. Good handstand work in here. Double tuck, little slide back on the salute.
8:25pm: Wong, VT: Yhalf on, pike half off, comes in short and almost takes a knee, has to take a big lunge forward. Not her best.
Stevens, UB: Good opening handstands. Ray has good amplitude, if some flexed feet. Transition is clean – DLO stuck! They are dialing it in, y’all.
8:27pm: Reed, VT: Y1.5, that FLEW out to the end of the mat, little hop forward.
Brusch, UB: Nice first handstands. Maloney to bail, leg form nice and clean on both. Last handstand maybe a little shy. DLO bounce back.
8:28pm: Blakely, VT: Y1.5, great power! Clean form. Little hop forward on the landing.
Gobourne, UB: Tkachev, some feet, to pak, big leg sep on the end of the pak salto. Full in dismount stuck!
8:30pm: Thomas, VT: Y1.5, STICKS IT! That’s huge! And she earns her second 10.0 on vault of the season!
Lee, UB: Great opening handstand. Nabieva to pak salto to van Leeuwen, WOW, what huge difficulty! Some leg seps in places in there, but hard to see when she’s going from skill to skill so quickly.
8:33pm: Edwards, EXH VT: Yfull STUCK!! Good for her!
McLaughlin, EXH UB: Maloney to pak, pretty clean. Swings her arms a little standing on the low bar, like she was gonna lose her balance! Double back dismount, little hop back.
AFTER TWO: UF 99.25, AUB 99.05
Scores are FLYING tonight, but Thomas’s 10.0 was legit! Both teams could be on pace for a season high score at this rate, even despite some missteps… take from that what you will.
8:41pm: Rotation 3 time! How high will these scores go?
Hollingsworth, BB: Back handspring layout stepout (bhs loso), looked a little hesitant to start out but lands securely. Switch to switch half to beat, clean. Side aerial back full stuck! A good start for Auburn.
Skaggs, FX: Double wolf turn to start, nice and precise and balanced. Rudi to double stag, doesn’t travel really at all, that’s good. Dance series is lovely. Combo pass to finish is great. She’s such a clean, consistent leadoff, what an asset to this team.
8:45pm: Brusch, BB: Series is secure! Switch to straddle 1/4, hard to see angles from this camera angle but looked fine. Gainer full dismount stuck! Another hit for the Tigers.
Richards, FX: DLO to open, control looked good, wiggles her front foot a little, hope it didn’t sting. Dance series… last element looked a little odd? Combo pass to finish is clean and she SCREAMS before she’s even done, she’s so thrilled. Another hit for her!
8:49pm: Stevens, BB: Bhs loso, nice and esteady. Split to ring stag to beat, some feet on the stag but positions were fine. Front aerial straight to her knee, that’s named after her – landed so cleanly, it barely makes a sound on the beam. Roundoff 1.5, college stick.
Baumann, FX: Let’s gooooo! 1.5 to front full, good control after. Turn sequence didn’t look fully finished from here but the cameras are moving around so much it was hard to tell. Dance series was good. Double pike to finish, a little slidey in that front foot, but she’s stoked. Schoenherr practically tackle hugs her as she salutes, love how this team supports each other!
8:53pm: Groth, BB: Bhs loso bhs, ooooh goes all the way to the end of the beam but shows no hesitation. Switch to switch half, nice 180 splits there. Full turn is clean. Front aerial, steady. Looked like a little adjustment on the landing.
Wong, FX: Triple full to open is LOVELY! Whip half to front full to stag, she kinda flies out of the pass, tries to cover with choreo but it was a little scary for a second there. Double pike is near-perfect though! Not her best night, but that’s okay – not every night needs to be perfect, especially not before postseason.
8:56pm: McLaughlin, BB: Switch leap to bhs loso, that’s fun, maybe a little lean but locks it down. Beat to aerial, solid. Dance series looked clean to me! Gainer off the end, stuck.
Reed, FX: DLO, a little lean but she doesn’t move her feet. Front lay to Rudi, solid control again there. Dance series is clean. I see her committing to the choreo even more this week, I think her confidence has somehow grown, incredible. Double pike to finish, gorgeous. That should be a major score for her!
9:01pm: Lee, BB: Front aerial to bhs loso, nice and clean. Leap series is lovely! I forgot how much I enjoyed watching her on beam. Cartwheel gainer full, stuck! It’s another perfect 10.0 for her!
Blakely, FX: NAILS her double arabian in the middle of the crowd going wild for Lee, what poise! Dance series is clean, ring shape looked better this week. Double tuck is well controlled as well, she is nailing this. Combo pass to close, looked clean to me! Team is going absolutely BANANAS for her, as they should – that was a massive routine for her.
9:05pm: Oldham, EXH BB: Bhs loso… and I looked away because BLAKELY GOT A 10!!! Dance series with a ring stag was lovely. Solid dismount!
Clark, EXH FX: 1.5 to front full, a little off her axis but doesn’t go OOB. Makes sure to gets her dance series around this time but her split was not a 180. Double tuck to finish, landing was a little deep, but she handled it. Glad to see her get out there!
AFTER THREE: UF 149.0, AUB 148.775
9:16pm: Last one, best one! Let’s go!
Skaggs, BB: Switch to split, lovely, some of the best splits we’ve seen all night. Bhs loso, so steady. Front aerial, secure on that. Sticks her dismount! Just a queen. Can’t thank her enough for all the work she does for this team.
Hubbard, FX: Big full in to start! Dance series is clean. 1.5 to front… tuck? Lay? Definitely not a clean body shape there, wonder what the judges will do with that.
9:20pm: Blakely, BB: Front aerial to bhs, clean. Switch to switch half, nicely done, a little front foot on the switch half? Side somi, little lean to the front there but she covers well. Side aerial back full, little hop to the side. She looks disappointed, there’s that perfectionism coming in coach Rowland has talked about so much.
Watson, FX: Double arabian to open! Step forward was a little deep but it was controlled. Combo pass is clean!. Dance series is nice and high. Double tuck to finish, kinda bouncy out of that one, front foot slides back.
9:24pm: Baumann, BB: Bhs loso, so solid. Switch to split, super clean. Front aerial, looked like she hesitated a little there? Made up the connection there later. Stuck the dismount!
Stevens, FX: Front aerial to Rudi is solid. Dance series… she kinda lost her balance out of the second element and fell into her floor choreo? I don’t know what I would do with that as a judge. Double tuck is near perfect!
9:28pm: Wong, BB: Switch to split leap, just gorgeous finish through both of those. Bhs loso, effortless. Switch ring, a little hesitation on the landing but kept it small. Front aerial, super steady. Roundoff double full, college stick there, but a solid routine overall.
Groth, FX: Front double full to open! Dance series there is nice. Combo pass is clean, she’s a lovely twister. Rudi to close, that will be a major score for her.
9:32pm: Thomas, BB: Bhs loso, covered her balance check with some choreo to the side, we’ll see how the judges view that. Mixed series is lovely this week. Side aerial back full stuck!
Lee, FX: DLO, good start! Dance series is solid. 1.5 to front full stuck! That’s another great routine for Auburn.
9:35pm: Clapper, BB: Bhs loso loso and she’s off! Oh no! So uncharacteristic for her. Finishes the routine, but this is already a season high for the Gators, so hopefully she doesn’t beat herself up too badly about it.
Gobourne, FX: Little music issue but she gets started finally. Gators walking over to cheer her on! Starts with a huge double back, great control on the landing. Combo pass, single step out of it into her choreo. So much precision in her choreo! SHE GETS A 10! FINALLY! This has been a long time coming for Gobourne, she’s been close so many times – and on senior night, too.
FINAL: IT’S A TIE! BOTH: 198.575
This ties the fourth-highest NCAA gymnastics score of all time!
That’s all for me tonight, y’all. Look for IN PERSON coverage from next week’s NCSU-Rutgers tri-meet from me! See you then!