Regular season has officially ended, so it’s time to take a look at how the Gators did and how that should translate to postseason.
The Gators have floated between No. 2 and No. 3 all season, duking it out with fellow former champions Michigan and staying within throwing distance of reigning champs Oklahoma. Bars has looked like Florida’s best event, never scoring below a 49.4 and ending the season ranked No. 2 on the event. Floor has been its most inconsistent, with the team’s lowest (49.175) and second-highest (49.725) event scores of the season both coming on the event.
Throughout the season, though, this team has played with its depth, rotating through athletes in the lineup to allow others to rest and searching for the right six to make up its final postseason competitors. This has been the primary reason for its inconsistencies, so as postseason approaches, it’s a reasonable expectation that consistency should improve.
Let’s break it down event by event and look at the finer details that could make the difference between win and lose in any step of the postseason.
The Gators have been steadily improving their landings on vault over the course of the season, culminating in back-to-back 49.5+ performances in their last two outings. Payton Richards, Kayla DiCello, Sloane Blakely, and Trinity Thomas have been lineup staples with their Yurchenko 1.5s, and all four have scored 9.925 or higher so far this season. Each has their unique variety of concerns: Blakely and Richards have a tendency to underrotate, Thomas occasionally overcooks hers, and DiCello’s can get a little uncontrolled in the air. Each of them will need to minimize these issues – without overcorrection – for the best vault rotation possible.
Leanne Wong has also been a lineup regular on vault, but her vault of choice is much different than most of her peers. She competes a Yurchenko half-on pike half off, which might sound like gibberish to anyone who isn’t intimately familiar with the sport. Like her teammates, Wong does a roundoff onto the springboard, but she does a half turn before pushing off of the table, so her hands are facing forward instead of backward. She then completes a single rotation with a half turn, so she lands facing the vault again, in a piked position.
Wong’s two problems this season have been her amplitude and her landing – she’s often landed with her chest low and close to the vault, and when she’s able to get a better block, she overdoes it and can’t control her landing, as in this video here. She earned a perfect 10.0 on vault last season with this vault, but to get back to that level of greatness, she’ll need to find a happy medium here.
The last member of the vault lineup has rotated over the course of the season, with Chloi Clark and Bri Edwards trading off for most of the season with their Yurchenko fulls. However, Rachel Baumann may be attempting a comeback after injuring her elbow early in the season, and her Y1.5 is capable of a much higher score than either full from Clark or Edwards. Victoria Nguyen also attempted a Y1.5 two weeks ago at Oklahoma, but had a scary fall that kept her out of the remainder of that meet and the following meet. It seems doubtful that she would make another attempt in a high-pressure situation like a postseason meet, but if she’s feeling more confident, it is possible.
Ideally, the Gators will want a sixth 10.0 start value vault to round out their lineup, especially as they get closer to facing opponents like Oklahoma, Michigan, or Utah. Baumann is the most likely candidate for that role, but “the most” doesn’t really mean “very” likely at all – her exhibition at TWU last week did not go especially well, and word is that it hurt her elbow to do. Perhaps Florida’s best bet is to focus on getting one of the fulls cleaned up to 9.9-quality, and the likeliest choice for that route is Edwards, as she seems to have a little more control over her landings than Clark.
Postseason Lineup Prediction: Richards, Wong, DiCello, Thomas, Blakely, Edwards/Baumann
With bars as their best event this season, the Gators are in really good shape here. The current six – Blakely, Richards, DiCello, Thomas, Wong, and Riley McCusker – could easily be the postseason six, do what they’ve been doing the last two weeks, and turn in an excellent event score. But in order to compete with the top dogs, Florida will want to gain as much ground as it can on this event, and that means some fine-tuning and maybe one last lineup change.
The majority of Florida’s bar routines rely on bar-to-bar transition elements, typically a Maloney – a toe-on Shaposhnikova, a family of release skills where the athlete moves from low bar to high bar with her body fully extended horizontally, facing the ceiling – and a pak salto – a release from high to low where the athlete swings beneath the high bar and inverts to grab the low bar. They’re the first two elements in this video:
The key to perfect execution on these is keeping the legs glued together, which some of the Gators have struggled with this season, particularly Blakely and Richards. They’ll want to pay special attention to that to keep from giving up valuable tenths against top competitors.
Richards also has significant leg separation with her double layout dismount. These two concerns may mean she shouldn’t make the final lineup, especially when the Gators have a few cleaner choices in their arsenal. If healthy, Nguyen definitely has a higher score ceiling – her season high is a 9.925, while Richards’s is just a 9.85. Additionally, there is still the hope that Savannah Schoenherr could return after breaking her foot the day before the season started. Last we heard, head coach Jenny Rowland said Schoenherr was “in the gym every day,” and she could be a big difference maker in postseason if she’s back to her usual 9.9+ self every week. Still, with only high-pressure situations left this season, is that level of risk worth it?
Postseason Lineup Prediction: Blakely, Nguyen, DiCello, Thomas, Wong, McCusker
With the addition of McCusker the last two weeks, it appears that the Gators have found their postseason six on balance beam. The biggest concern right now is landings, because most of this team has had to upgrade their dismounts after changes to the code this season.
The side aerial to back full was devalued, so in order for beam routines to start from a 10.0, athletes have had to restructure their dismount choices, with most Gators choosing side aerial or roundoff to 1.5 twist. The 1.5 is harder to stick, as it’s a bit of a blind landing, so getting extra tenths back on beam will really be about dialing in those landings. Check out the difference between the dismounts in Thomas’s routines below between 2022 and 2023.
Others, like Wong and DiCello, have chosen different dismounts, but have also had some trouble sticking. Drilling these landings without question marks like swimming their arms or college sticking will be key to getting the most out of this rotation in every step of the postseason.
Predicted Postseason Lineup: Blakely, Lazzari, DiCello, Wong, Thomas, McCusker
On floor, Florida has rarely competed the full lineup that they will likely want in the postseason. Thomas, DiCello, Wong, and Baumann have been rotated out to get rest weeks but have generally been lineup regulars and all have routines capable of perfection, with both Thomas and Baumann having reached that mark previously. Blakely has also gotten her double arabian relatively under control, although she still runs the risk of going out of bounds. Still, her upside is enormous – she scored a perfect 10.0 last season – so the scoring potential is worth the risk.
The big question will be whether the sixth member of the lineup will be Richards or Nguyen. Nguyen’s technique is certainly better, but after her vault crash a few weeks ago, whether or not she will be ready remains to be seen. Richards is reliable, but her leg form can get a little loose on her double layout, and she had a hiccup a few weeks ago with her combination pass where she missed the rebound from one element into the next. Still, she’s scored as high as 9.925 this season, which is absolutely a desirable score for postseason. Either would be an excellent choice – it’s just a matter of who’s most ready.
If I were in Rowland’s shoes, I would move Baumann later into the lineup. She scored a 10.0 last year at Georgia, and she’s absolutely capable of it as a Gator as well. She has the precision, the strong tumbling, and the style to go big, but because of the way that scores typically build as a lineup goes on, she won’t score as high as she’s capable of if she stays in the 2 spot. 3rd, or even 4th, would give her a much better chance at a high score.
Postseason Lineup Prediction: Richards/Nguyen, DiCello, Wong, Baumann, Thomas, Blakely
Florida will be looking for strong results over the next month in the various stages of postseason. Tonight, the Gators will seek the conference title as the slight favorites for the SEC Championship. They’ll begin on vault, so watch their landings to see how they’re doing in paying attention to these details. They’ll need every last tenth to hold off LSU, Kentucky, and Alabama.
Gator fans can also keep an eye out for a specific score – 198.225. A 198 flat will lock in No. 3 for Florida without needing to worry about what Utah or UCLA can score at Pac-12 Championships, but 198.225 would put them into No. 2 over Michigan. They’ll need every single tenth in order to make that happen – can they do it?
Find out tonight at 8pm ET! We’ll be here for a liveblog shortly beforehand to make sure we have all the action for you.