It’s here! The 2023 season has arrived! The Gators begin the season ranked second, a place they’ve gotten accustomed to over the last few years. Tonight, they begin another quest for the national championship that has eluded them since head coach Jenny Rowland took the reins in 2016. Last year, they took second – can Florida finally put all the pieces together at the right time this year?
The team will once again be led by Trinity Thomas – now in her final year of eligibility – with classmates Leah Clapper and transfer Rachel Baumann. Look for Thomas to be paced slowly again this season: Rowland has already said that they won’t be pushing her to do all-around every week. Clapper should once again contend for the anchor spot on beam, boasting a perfect 10.0 to her name, and Baumann should follow in her sister’s footsteps as a beam and floor rock.
Unfortunately, fellow fifth-year Savannah Schoenherr, who was poised to debut a new bar routine tonight, broke her foot in a non-gymnastics-related incident earlier this week. Her status for the season remains up in the air.
Fellow upperclassmen Payton Richards, Ellie Lazzari, and transfer Victoria Nguyen will all also look to make an impact. Richards has been vaulting more confidently than ever, adding back her Yurchenko 1.5 to the Gators’ arsenal, and Nguyen brings elegant long lines and effortless grace to bars and beam. Lazzari will be returning slowly from injury – expect her on beam first, but she may add back more events over the course of the season.
Sophomores Sloane Blakely, Bri Edwards, Riley McCusker, and Leanne Wong all regularly made lineups last season, but competition is stronger this year, even if that seems impossible based on the depth of the 2022 team. Blakely and Wong will contend for all four events, with both bringing valuable 10.0 starts to the vault lineup and strong tumbling on floor. Blakely will likely be a regular on beam as well with her steady composure, and Wong will almost certainly co-anchor the bars lineup with Thomas. McCusker will once again make her case for both bars and beam and may add back other events as she continues to strengthen her ankle after injury in 2021, and Edwards is a convincing choice for a clean vault if not all of the 10.0 start options are ready to go.
Freshmen Lori Brubach and Kayla DiCello may also make appearances tonight, with DiCello the more likely of the two as a world AA medalist. Her bars and floor will be great assets to the Gators, but Rowland has indicated her pacing will be slower as well. The biggest story tonight, though, is the triumphant NCAA debut of Morgan Hurd! After spending a year rehabbing yet another surgery, Hurd will join her team on the floor competition-ready this season, with her likeliest events being beam and floor.
Could this finally be the year? It’s hard to say, but odds look good that Florida will once again go far this season. It all starts tonight at 6:45pm in the O-Dome or 7pm on SECN+, but if you can’t make it, we’ll be liveblogging right here on ChompTalk. See you then!
*Feature photo by Morgan Engel | Getty Images