The Florida gymnastics team has already been through a tumultuous stretch to begin the season.
So far, the Gators have beaten three SEC opponents: Arkansas, Missouri and LSU. All three teams are currently ranked in the Road to Nationals Top 25, with Arkansas at No. 19, Missouri No. 20 and LSU No. 8.
Besides some hiccups early on in Missouri, No. 2 Florida has handled those opponents with ease. Against Arkansas, it won by its largest margin since 2017 and finished with the highest score ever (197.35) in a season-opener in program history. Against LSU, it ended with the highest score (198.375) of any team in the country so far this season. It was also the highest score of coach Jenny Rowland’s career.
There are numerous reasons for UF’s topflight performance thus far. First, there’s sophomore Trinity Thomas’ remarkable play, capped off by the 10 she scored on uneven bars Friday against LSU. It’s also hard to ignore the surprise emergence of freshman Payton Richards, who, in just her third career meet, started in all four rotations.
But one could argue the biggest explanation for the Gators’ superb performance has been their depth.
Even before the season began, Rowland knew the deep roster would be an asset.
“I can’t say we’ve had this much depth since I’ve been here,” Rowland said before the meet against the Razorbacks. “It’s a great problem to have and a conversation we’ve continuously had.”
Since that meet against the Hogs, Rowland has adjusted the lineups quite a bit.
She has rolled out a different vault lineup each meet this season. Junior Alyssa Baumann started on the vault against Arkansas, but she scored a 9.175, so, against Mizzou, she was benched in favor of junior Megan Skaggs. In place of Baumann, Skaggs ended up scoring a 9.80, the second-highest score for UF in the vault that week.
However, she was replaced for LSU by Baumann once again, who rebounded and scored a 9.85.
Prior to the LSU meet, Baumann said the depth is a motivating factor for herself and her teammates.
“I think it has really pushed our team,” she said. “We are competing for lineup spots each week, and it’s just making everyone a little bit better.”
The depth also allows Rowland to make easy changes when gymnasts aren’t available. Sophomore Leah Clapper had started the first two meets on the beam, but missed the meet versus the Tigers. Sophomore Sydney Johnson-Scharpf filled in for her and scored a 9.925, helping Florida finish with its best beam score (49.675) in program history.
Following the LSU meet, Rowland admitted she’s gotten some enjoyment out of the depth.
“I’m having just a little fun with these lineups,” Rowland said with a laugh. “I told Sydney after her beam routine that she did a great job and you go to trust the process sometimes.”
The squad’s deepness will have to continue to be an asset for UF the rest of the way. The next six meets for the Gators will be against teams ranked in the Top 25, led by home meets against No. 4 Denver on Feb. 7 and No. 5 Alabama on Feb. 21.
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Noah is a third year journalism-sports and media student from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He has been with The Alligator since Spring 2019 and has covered men’s and women’s tennis, gymnastics and volleyball. When he isn’t on his beat, Noah is usually sadden over his beloved South Florida sports teams, such as the Heat and Dolphins.