Florida is only heading into its second meet of the season, but one theme is abundantly clear.
Every accomplishment the 2021 team achieves is in the name of the 2020 Gators gymnastics senior class.
Former Gators Sierra Alexander, Maegan Chant, Rachel Gowey and Amelia Hundley were supposed to be honored March 13 at a meet against Texas Woman's University. But the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and the NCAA was forced to cancel senior night and the rest of the season.
Those four seniors will step into the spotlight one final time under the dimmed lights of the O’Connell Center, receiving their long-awaited recognition when No. 1 Florida takes on No. 7 Georgia.
The Gators’ impending showdown against the Bulldogs will be the second top-15 clash of the season. They defeated No. 9 Auburn 197.500 to 195.725, setting a program best for an opening meet.
Junior Trinity Thomas continued her dominant form after a 10-month hiatus, collecting the all-around title for the 15th time. Her score of 39.750 is the best all-around score in the nation and helped her earn SEC Gymnast of the Week for the 12th time.
Junior Nya Reed was also recognized as SEC Co-Specialist of the Week, splitting the award with the Crimson Tide’s Makarri Doggette. Reed only appeared on the vault and floor exercise, recording a 9.90 and 9.25, respectively.
Reed’s performance on vault lifted the Gators to its best vaulting score since 2017, scoring a 49.55. Her performance played a pivotal role in their success on vault. Sophomore Payton Richards, who went first in the vault rotation, was also key because she established the tone for the following routines, coach Jenny Rowland said.
But Florida still has room for improvement. The night’s lowest score occurred on the uneven bars exercise at the beginning of the meet. This performance can’t be recycled because Georgia currently has the second best bars score in the country.
Rowland, however, pinned the Gators’ struggles on first meet jitters.
“Our first event out was a little rough, a little uncharacteristic, just not very smooth and rhythm on bars,” she said. “But first meet out, first event out, you know, lots of jitters we haven't competed since March.”
After the slow start, Rowland saw her team take a deep breath and compose themselves before starting the next rotation, which she said she was really pleased with.
For senior Alyssa Baumann, Friday’s meet isn’t just special because Florida is honoring its 2020 senior class. It's also the last time competing against her sister, Rachel Baumann.
The senior said she expects her parents to attend donning mainly orange and blue and a sliver of red and black for Rachel.
Freshman Ellie Lazzari has never had the opportunity to compete with the likes of Alexander, Chant, Gowey or Hundley, but said she understands how special they are to Florida's program.
“I looked up to them for so long and they're just a unique class,” she said. “I think that all four of them really contributed so much to the team and [we’re] just here to finish what they started.”
The meet begins at 6:45 p.m. Friday in the O’Dome and can be streamed on SEC Network+.
Contact Zachary Huber at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber