Junior Leah Clapper felt like the weight of the world was crashing down on her shoulders when it was her turn to take the balance beam.
She glanced at the scoreboard and calculated the score Florida needed to clinch the comeback victory against No. 2 LSU. She watched her teammates post scores of 9.9 or better. Clapper was the anchor, or last up, in the Gators’ lineup.
She handled the gut-wrenching moment gracefully after she lost her footing early. She nailed the landing and scored a 9.9 that helped the Gators clinch the 198.15-198.05 dub.
Clapper and Florida hope to carry that momentum from their last meet to the O’Connell Center. They return Friday to battle No. 15 Kentucky at 6:45 p.m. in its 15th annual “Link to Pink” meet. Both squads will ditch their traditional school colors for pink-colored leotards to raise awareness for breast cancer.
Before the LSU meet, coach Jenny Rowland had her team watch “The Playbook” documentary featuring current Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers. Clapper reminded herself of the show as she hopped on the beam in a heart-stopping moment.
“Embrace the pressure, savor it, be grateful for it,” she said. “Because those are the moments that you work so hard for, and instead of running away from it, run towards it.”
Rowland said she understood the meet in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, would be a rollercoaster of emotions because the two teams always bring out the best in each other. She was thrilled with how her Gators handled the daunting challenge.
Florida proved its dominance against LSU. Both squads were the first to post scores north of 198. They hold the No. 2 and No. 3 highest scores in the country because No. 4 Oklahoma surpassed their scores, scoring 198.225 later on Feb. 12.
However, the Gators maintained their top average on the vault and beam exercises. They averaged a 49.42 and a 49.49 through five meets. Their highest scores were 49.55 and 49.65, with the former notched twice Jan. 8 and Feb. 12.
Florida isn’t too shabby on its other events and ranks third on the floor exercise and fourth on the uneven bars, respectively.
Junior Trinity Thomas continued smashing Florida program records. She set a 39.9 in the all-around last Friday, passing Gator legends Alaina Johnson, Alex McMurtry and Bridget Sloan. Her score sits No. 5 all-time in NCAA history.
Freshman Ellie Lazzari appeared in the all-around for the first time this season. Rowland had teased that she would be listed for it in an upcoming meet.
She logged a 39.3 and saved her best performance for beam when Florida needed it most, scoring a 9.95.
The “Link to Pink” meet starts at 6:45 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network.
Contact Zachary Huber at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber