Kennedy Baker took a deep breath, saluted the judges and grabbed onto the bars.
Teammate Alicia Boren had under-rotated her bar routine to lead-off the rotation, and Rachel Gowey had fallen flat on the mat on her release move, forcing the Gators to count Boren’s 9.425.
With one of their worst starts on an apparatus they rank No. 4 nationally on, Florida needed a solid routine from Baker to salvage its score.
“I’m normally pretty chill, but I was a little nervous that time,” Baker said. “It’s been awhile since I’ve fallen on bars in a meet. So I just kept that in the back of my mind going into that routine.”
She didn’t flinch, delivering a 9.875 with an emphatic stuck landing.
And while the Gators struggled through their first two rotations on bars and beam — trailing Georgia .325 after the second rotation — they rebounded with strong routines on floor and beam, which ended up being the highest scoring rotations of the night for any of the six teams.
With their team score of 197.125, Florida advanced to the NCAA Championships, edging out the Bulldogs who also qualified with a 196.775.
This is the sixth season in a row that the Gators have won regionals.
“I’m glad that’s over,” Florida coach Jenny Rowland laughed after the meet. “It's something that we don't talk about as far as it's do or die, you qualify or you don't qualify. But we treat it just as any other meet.
Junior Alex McMurtry had the top performance of the meet, winning her second straight all-around title and the title of Southeast Region Gymnast of the Year.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” McMurtry said. “This year I feel like I’ve definitely just figured the whole thing out.”
The Gators now have a two-week break before they travel to St. Louis for the NCAA Championship on April 14 and April 15.
“Once we figured out it’s just ‘Nastics, I think everyone calmed down a little bit,” Rowland said, “and did what they were capable of doing and really finished on an exclamation point.”