Florida ages like fine wine during meets. It improves over time.
The Gators scores only got better throughout the meet against Georgia, pushing them to another victory over a ranked foe. They defeated the Bulldogs 197.250 to 196.075 Friday night in the O’Connell Center.
Despite recording the highest score since 2017 on vault, No. 1 Florida couldn’t repeat the same performance from last week versus Auburn. Coach Jenny Rowland told the media on Monday that sophomore Payton Richards was crucial for its success on the exercise, leading off with a 9.875.
Richards against the No. 7 Bulldogs started the evening off with a 9.750. It was dropped because it was the Gators’ lowest score. Freshman Ellie Lazzari followed Richards, recording a 9.825. Junior Savannah Schoenherr tallied a 9.825, too. Senior Megan Skaggs also took a step back, scoring a 9.850 compared to a 9.900 a week ago. But former Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Week and Co-Specialist of the Week Trinity Thomas and Nya Reed were clutch for Florida. They scored a 9.900 and a 9.850, respectively, leading UF to an overall vault score of 49.250.
Heading into the uneven bars exercise, the orange and blue held a 0.200 lead over the red and black. Florida seized the opportunity to increase its lead. Thomas recorded the best score for the Gators on bars with a 9.95. Her high score was followed by freshman Gabrielle Gallentine, Skaggs and Schoenherr, registering a 9.825. They aided the Gators to a 49.225 score on the bars.
However, Georgia still remained in striking distance after two rotations, trailing 98.475 to 98.225.
Florida managed to grow its lead to 0.500 on the balance beam despite an uncharacteristic mishap.
During Thomas’ beam routine, she tried a new mount that she was practicing but fell off the beam. She regathered herself and hopped back on the beam to finish the routine. She finished with a 9.250, which was dropped.
Rowland said they taught her a new mount to prepare her for international competition this summer. Her fall was uncharacteristic because as a Gator two of her four perfect scores have come on the balance beam.
After her routine, Rowland saw how frustrated Thomas was and met her at the beam and consoled her.
“I told her, you know what, let’s let it go, not everyone is superhuman or superwoman and that’s OK,” she said of her conversation with Thomas.
Even in the face of adversity, Florida’s other gymnasts delivered.
Junior Leah Clapper stepped up to Florida’s rescue, scoring a 9.925. Then Junior Sydney Johnson-Scharpf and Richards followed Clapper, tallying a 9.875. Finally, senior Alyssa Baumann and Lazzari followed her with a 9.850.
Heading into the floor exercise, the last rotation of the night, Florida wouldn’t surrender its lead. Reed made her case to repeat as SEC Specialist of the Week. When she finished her routine, the Florida team swarmed her and started calling for a perfect score with the orange and blue faithful. The judges didn’t listen and gave her a 9.975 just shy of that elusive 10.
“As soon as she finished, I had goosebumps,” Rowland said of Reed’s floor exercise. “It really was a spectacular performance…. She just has newfound confidence in her and has been a leader for this team.”
Clapper said she appreciates Reed because has the innate ability to settle the team when they get too silly or having too much fun.
Baumann finished second on floor with a 9.925. Johnson-Scharpf had the next highest score with a 9.900. Reed’s leading score carried the Gators to an improved floor score of 49.400.
Overall, Rowland is pleased with the score the Gators put up tonight but knows there is room for more.
“We do not want to have peaked yet,” she said. “We still have a lot of opportunities. So we’re gonna make the most of each day and continue to try to get better each and every day.”
Contact Zachary Huber at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber