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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
<p>UF gymnast Grace McLaughlin prepares for an event during Florida's win over Auburn on Jan. 27, 2017, in the O'Connell Center.&nbsp;</p>

UF gymnast Grace McLaughlin prepares for an event during Florida's win over Auburn on Jan. 27, 2017, in the O'Connell Center. 

With All-Americans like Alex McMurtry and Kennedy Baker on Florida’s roster, it’s easy for junior Grace McLaughlin to get overshadowed by her talented teammates. But while the Gators have been breaking records four meets into the season, McLaughlin has quietly been having a breakout season of her own.

The Allen, Texas, native has competed in every meet this season, posting collegiate bests on the beam (9.875) and bars (9.850) during Florida’s meet again North Carolina on Jan. 20th.

She also has not had a score lower than a 9.800 on floor through her first three routines.

“Honestly, I have had really kind of excitement just getting back into things, especially coming back on three events this year,” McLaughlin said on Wednesday. “Getting back on bars is, like, my speciality. And just kind of having that feeling of touching the bar again and landing is kind of like the first time starting gymnastics again. And it has been kind of a great feeling to get back into it.”

As a freshman, McLaughlin competed only twice, and once was exhibition.

Last season, she found herself in the leadoff spot on floor, and occasionally had a spot in the bars and beam lineups.

But this season has been different. The Gators are now consistently depending on her in three different rotations.

“I think she has come leaps and bounds over the last year,” Florida coach Jenny Rowland said. “She really has dedicated herself in the gym, dedicated herself in different ways and challenged herself in ways outside of the gym, which really, I think, has had great results on the competition floor. She definitely has put herself in a position to be successful and I am really pleased and very happy, as I know she is as well.”

Today, McLaughlin and the No. 3 Gators will face their hardest challenge yet when they take on No. 6 Alabama in their first SEC road meet in Tuscaloosa.

While the Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) are undefeated on the season, the Tide (2-3, 2-2 SEC) are looking for their first home win.

Though they have been on the losing end of three meets so far, Alabama’s record doesn’t tell the whole story of its season.

Two of those losses came against the top team in the country­ — then-No.1 LSU and No. 1 Oklahoma — so the Gators aren’t underestimating the Crimson Tide, especially not at their home.

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“This is a huge SEC rivalry,” Baker said. “To go there and get a win would mean a lot. I think that we are definitely ready and we’re ready to prove ourselves against Alabama this weekend.”

Baker, who was the SEC Specialist of the Week after her perfect 10 on floor during last Friday’s meet against Auburn, says this meet is different because of how close she and her teammates are to many of the competitors on the opposite sideline.

“It’s kind of ironic because I’m actually best friends with the entire ‘Bama team,” Baker said. “There’s a girl who that is literally like my sister there. It’s kind of like, ‘I want you to do really well, but not better than us’. … I still secretly cheer for her, but I cheer for my team louder.”

Contact Lauren Staff at and follow her on Twitter @LStaff27.

UF gymnast Grace McLaughlin prepares for an event during Florida's win over Auburn on Jan. 27, 2017, in the O'Connell Center. 

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