Senior Alyssa Baumann hadn’t competed on the uneven bars in 1,699 days.
She soared through her bars routine and nailed an almost perfect landing for the chef’s kiss on her routine. The Dallas, Texas, native let out a large smile after her landing as tears rolled down her cheeks like a small stream.
Fellow senior Jazmyn Foberg hugged her from behind as her teammates pumped her up. Her tears then washed off her pink glittery eyeshadow as the judges released her score: a 9.925.
The No. 1 Gators will need another Baumann special performance if they hope to beat No. 18 Auburn for the second time this season Friday at 8:15 p.m. in the O’Connell Center.
Last Friday, Florida displayed its dominance to the rest of the country. It posted a team score of 197.5, tied for the 10th-highest score in the country without four key contributors.
Before the meet, the Gators announced that they were facing No. 14 Kentucky without coach Jenny Rowland and juniors Trinity Thomas, Nya Reed, Savannah Schoenherr and Sydney Johnson-Scharpf. The four, who make up 36% of the lineup, were ruled out due to COVID-19 tests and contact tracing.
Baumann, senior Megan Skaggs, junior Leah Clapper, sophomore Payton Richards and freshman Ellie Lazzari knew the losses added immense pressure.
After the meet, Rowland looked like a mess because she had to watch the meet from home. The makeup she usually wore disappeared and her voice was hoarse.
She said she was enthusiastic about the team’s performance, but none stood out like Baumann’s. Because she understood everything she went through.
The Texan, who was on the USA Gymnastics team, revealed that she was a survivor of sexual assault on Twitter Nov. 15, 2018. Baumann went public after she filed a lawsuit as “Jane Doe” in August 2018 stating that Dr. Larry Nassar sexually abused her. Nassar was sentenced to 40-175 years in prison on Jan. 24, 2018.
“I think that’s why half of my makeup is gone,” Rowland said Feb. 19 about Baumann’s performance. “I’m so, I’m so happy that it paid off and she was able to you know reap all those benefits tonight. I just wish I was there to give her a big hug.”
While not physically present at the meet, Rowland said Wednesday that she screamed and cried with Baumann as she watched her dominate the bars routine.
Other gymnasts also stepped up. Clapper scored her career-first perfect score on the balance beam.
To Skaggs, their performance versus Kentucky sent a strong message to the rest of the country.
“I hope people are scared of the Florida Gators because we’re pretty good,” she said.
The team shouldn’t lack confidence as they boast three of the top-10 scores in the country, according to Road to Nationals. No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Oklahoma are the only other schools to have more than one score listed. The Gators also hold a top-5 average on every event. They rank first on vault and beam and sit second on floor and fourth on bars.
Skaggs also believes the team’s confidence skyrocketed over the last few meets. They’ve been more honest to talk about the elephant in the room.
“We’re not afraid to say how good we are and to say that we’re capable of winning a national championship,” she said. “I think in the past that’s been something that you kind of tiptoe around and don’t want to say, but we see it.”
Rowland, however, emphasized that Florida is only as strong as its weakest link.
The Gators clash against the Tigers Friday at 8:15 p.m. The meet will stream on SEC Network.
Contact Zachary Huber at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.