Alabama junior Kiana Winston stepped onto the floor in front of a crowd of more than 14,000 in Tuscaloosa and delivered perfection.
As her score of 10 was announced, the crowd erupted mid-way through Alex McMurtry’s beam routine.
The home crowd’s celebration could have distracted McMurtry.
It could have made her fall.
But it didn’t.
Instead, she delivered a 9.875 to close out a solid meet for the Gators.
“Competing at Alabama, it’s never easy,” Florida coach Jenny Rowland said. “There was a perfect 10 thrown, and Alex McMurtry was on beam during that celebration and was just as poised as ever and nailed a solid routine. It really just goes to show the mentality and the level of competitors we have on this team.”
And while the No. 3 Gators (4-1, 2-1 SEC) didn’t leave with a win against No. 6 Alabama, they still posted a team score of 197.425 in their first SEC road meet, the nation’s highest road score of the weekend.
Florida scored at least a 9.8 in 22 of its 24 routines, including seven scores at or above a 9.90.
“This team rose to the occasion and put on a fantastic performance,” Rowland said. “From the freshmen all the way to the returners, it was really nice to see.”
Florida, which is now past the halfway point of its regular-season slate, has yet to post a team score less than a 197.10 through the first five meets.
But the Gators have entered their most difficult part of their schedule.
The meet against the Tide kicked off a stretch of five straight SEC meets, including No. 9 Georgia, No. 23 Arkansas, No. 13 Missouri and No. 2 LSU.
“SEC meets are always difficult,” Rowland said. “It’s the adrenaline rush, more than anything. The excitement, the adrenaline, you know, is always going to be there. There are never competitions we have to help the girls get up for. I know they are ready for the challenge and ready to perform and put on a great show for Gainesville.”
Florida will have its hands full when it meets the Bulldogs in the O’Connell Center on Friday.
Georgia, which started the season off slow with a 193.600 loss against LSU, has won five straight meets.
Unlike the Gators, though, they have only posted a team score above a 197 once against Missouri.
“We’re at home. We’re always excited to be home,” Rowland said. “Another great rival, and looking forward to hosting them this Friday.”
Contact Lauren Staff at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @lstaff27.
UF gymnast Alex McMurtry swings during Florida's win over Auburn on Jan. 27, 2017, in the O'Connell Center.