For Florida gymnastics coach Jenny Rowland, last weekend presented a slew of firsts.
It was UF’s first regular-season Southeastern Conference meet and first SEC contest in an opposing squad’s arena.
And, for the first-year head coach, Friday was her first time stepping foot in the Auburn Arena as a member of a conference rival.
As a member of the Auburn Tigers, Rowland aided AU head coach Jeff Graba for five years, providing input first as an assistant before earning a promotion to associate head coach in 2013.
On the heels of a season that saw Auburn return to the Super Six for the first time in 22 years, she was named 2015’s co-National Assistant Coach of the Year, solidifying her position as a hot commodity on the coaching market.
Scooped up following the departure of Florida’s long-time coach Rhonda Faehn, Rowland was brought in to oversee the continued success of one of the nation’s premier collegiate gymnastics programs.
It was her first challenge of such a magnitude. For all of her experience as a competitor, judge and instructor, she had never helmed a team on her own.
And yet, mere months and a jersey-swap later, Jenny Rowland stood at the UF Women’s Club lectern, delivering a press conference in the wake of a 197.075-195.90 triumph over Auburn.
"It was very nice to be back," Rowland said of her homecoming. "A lot of emotions stirring through my head the whole competition."
Rowland wasn’t detached from the weight of the moment. In front of an announced sellout crowd of 7,424, she received a hospitable welcome home.
"Once I got there, it was actually a very warm welcome," she said. "It was very nice to see a lot of familiar faces, and they were actually very welcoming and very open-armed."
But the warm welcome ended soon after the beginning of the meet.
"Once competition started, it was game-on. It was all about my athletes and the Gators," Rowland said.
With their coach all-in, Florida’s gymnasts have taken notice. And with a home meet against No. 5 Alabama coming up this Friday in the O’Connell Center, they’ll be looking to feed off of Rowland’s mentality.
"Sure it was a little hard for Jenny as she recently came to Florida from Auburn, but she did a great job," senior Bridget Sloan said following Friday night’s victory.
"She is truly a Gator now. We trust her, and we want to go out there and make her look good."
Contact Alejandro López email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ajlb95.
UF coach Jenny Rowland waves to the crowd prior to Florida’s win against UCLA on Jan. 15, 2016, in the O’Connell Center.