Florida’s meet against Arkansas last Friday felt like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier’s last boxing match, famously known as the Thrilla in Manila.
Each team delivered punch after punch. Then in the third rotation, the Razorbacks delivered a series of jabs on the balance beam, trimming Florida’s lead to 148-147.875 and putting immense pressure on the Gators heading into the last rotation.
Senior Megan Skaggs admitted she peeked at the scoreboard even though coach Jenny Rowland tells them to ignore it. The roars from Barnhill Arena whenever an Arkansas gymnast posted a 9.9 or better were too compelling to ignore for Skaggs.
“We usually talk about not looking at the scoreboard,” she said. “I shouldn’t have looked, I did look, but we know who we are… so really knowing the score doesn’t change anything,”
Looking up at the scores had no effect on Skaggs as she and Florida matched the ‘Hogs scores tit for tat despite its star gymnast Trinity Thomas falling on beam for the second-consecutive week. Skaggs, senior Alyssa Baumann, junior Sydney Johnson-Scharpf all recorded scores north of 9.875, aiding their squad to victory versus Arkansas 197.425-197.250.
The scores posted by both teams rank top four in the country, per Road to Nationals.
The No. 1 Gators hope to build off their strong performance when they tussle against No. 24 Missouri Friday at 6:45 p.m. in the O’Connell Center.
One of the lone weaknesses for Florida was thought to be the uneven bars after registering a 49.050 in its opening meet versus Auburn.
Rowland blamed her team’s struggles on anxiousness after finally competing following a 10-month hiatus.
That appears to be the case as Florida has steadily climbed up the team rankings for best average bars score. It landed seventh after being labeled 12th last week. UF’s ascension into the top 10 was possible because of its season-high of 49.400 recorded against Arkansas.
Rowland said she could see this improvement coming from a distance because stuck landings became more consistent in practice.
“It was so exciting to see the calmness, the team at ease on top of the bar really was a great improvement from our first away meet,” she said. “So really excited to see that this team is settling in a little bit and continuing to work on those details.”
She lauded her team’s depth as the reason for the Gators’ success, such as how they rank top five in every event except bars. They also claim the top spot on vault and beam.
Florida’s performance on floor could’ve unraveled against the Razorbacks, as Baumann was a late scratch from the lineup due to cramps. Junior Halley Taylor stepped in as her replacement, scoring a 9.700 in her second official floor routine as a Gator.
But the Gators stayed composed. Junior Nya Reed tallied the highest score at 9.925. Thomas had the next highest total: a 9.875. They were followed by Johnson-Scharpf, Skaggs and sophomore Payton Richards, who scored a 9.850, 9.825 and 9.750, respectively.
Florida’s match against the Tigers and can be streamed on SEC Network.
Contact Zachary Huber at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber