A week ago, it seemed that there might not be enough gymnasts to compete, let alone at a high level, when the No. 3 Gators took on then-No. 9 Georgia on Friday in O’Connell Center.
A stomach virus that spread to almost the entire Florida team led to canceled practices throughout the week, forcing the coaching staff’s hand in having to change the lineup at the last minute.
As a result, junior Kennedy Baker, who has emerged as one of Florida’s top all-arounders, winning the title in three attempts, was limited to just competing on bars.
In her absence, freshman Sierra Alexander was thrust into the vault lineup in only her second meet of the season.
For all of those obstacles, however, Florida thrived, scoring a 197.975, its highest team score of the season and the second-best score in the nation this season.
“Workouts last week were pretty minimal,” Florida coach Jenny Rowland said. “However, (we) had a fantastic competition Friday evening. … Really, I think it’s a great testament to their hard work and dedication in the preseason.”
The virus kept junior Alex McMurtry from making her season debut on floor, but it didn’t keep her from notching a perfect 10 on bars, the second 10 of the season so far for the Gators (Baker, floor).
Although McMurtry didn’t have her chance in front of the home crowd, she may get the opportunity to compete on floor Friday at No. 23 Arkansas.
“We are looking to possibly put her in this Friday,” Rowland said. “Her strength is coming back, she’ll be training this week and we will see come Friday if she is ready to go.”
If she is able to compete, McMurtry will contribute to an already dominant lineup in the event for Florida, which was led by sophomore Alicia Boren’s score of 9.95 against the Bulldogs.
The issues that plagued Boren in her freshman season — taking competitions too seriously and not smiling enough — have disappeared.
After almost every tumbling pass this season, she has flashed a huge grin, interacting with her team and the crowd as she competes.
“Last year she was a little bit more focused and concerned about hitting her routines, about making everything as perfect as she can,” Rowland said. “This year, she really has just been able to let that go and have fun.”
Contact Lauren Staff at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lstaff27.
UF head coach Jenny Rowland smiles during Florida's win against Georgia on Feb. 10, 2017, in the O'Connell Center.