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Tuesday, August 09, 2022
<p>Kennedy Baker performs on the balance beam during Florida's win against Arkansas on Feb. 12, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Kennedy Baker performs on the balance beam during Florida's win against Arkansas on Feb. 12, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.

Florida is primed for yet another National Championship berth.

But that trip to Fort Worth, Texas, has yet to be set in stone.

This Saturday at 5 p.m., the No. 2-ranked Gators will take the mat at the University of Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion, squaring off against five of the country’s best squads in NCAA Minneapolis Gymnastics Regional action.

"We’re all super excited going in," sophomore Kennedy Baker said. "Basically, we have pretty much NCAA lineups. It’s definitely a practice NCAA. It’s six teams, so it’s exactly like the first day and the second day of NCAA’s."

Take a look at what the Gators are up against, and that categorization holds true.

Bracketed at random from the nation’s top 36 gymnastics programs, Florida’s opposition includes No. 11 Denver, No. 16 Minnesota, No. 20 Missouri, No. 28 Ohio State and No. 31 BYU.

While facing stiff competition, history favors the Gators — they boast a perfect 40-0-0 record against those four teams.

Furthermore, the team has historically performed well at the regional level, finishing either first or second in each of the last 15 years.

However, this meet presents an element of uncertainty.

Of the bunch, Florida has only seen intraconference rival Missouri during the regular season this year. You’d have to go back to 2013 to find Minnesota on the slate, and even further back to encounter any of the three remaining teams.

In spite of this, the Gators are confident, buoyed by a solid string of practices that purposely mimicked this week’s championship lead-up.

"This was the first week in 11 weeks that the Gators have not had a competition over the weekend," head coach Jenny Rowland said Monday.

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"We compete this upcoming Saturday, so we modeled last week’s training schedule (off of that) and actually had a Saturday practice, had a little mock meet, and the girls did a great job. The energy was incredibly high this past week."

Combine that energy with Florida's usual confidence, and the Gators emerge as a clear favorite to snag one of the top-two finishes required to book a spot the National Championships on April 15.

"Regionals is really great for us because we’ve gone through SEC’s, and now it’s like our kind of stepping stone to Nationals," sophomore Grace McLaughlin said. "We don’t really have to blow it out of the park this time.

"We just kinda have to go in and be normal, like Jenny always talks about, and just do our routines and really focus on doing the little details better than we did at SEC’s."

 

Kennedy Baker performs on the balance beam during Florida's win against Arkansas on Feb. 12, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.

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