All eyes in the college gymnastics world will be focused on Florida and LSU when the nation’s top two teams tangle Friday night.
When giants in a sport clash, it grabs people’s attention.
In 2011, No. 1 LSU narrowly beat No. 2 Alabama 9-6 in football in what was dubbed “The Game of the Century.” Florida however is not estranged to these showdowns. In 2019, Oklahoma edged the Gators in Norman, Oklahoma, 198.325-198.025.
However, the team spoke about how it remains cool and collected like the other side of a pillow despite the hype the meet is receiving during media availabilities this week. The excitement will reach its boiling point Friday at 7:30 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. No. 1 Florida (4-0) and No. 2 LSU (4-0) take the mats.
These two goliaths have delivered even with the anticipation surrounding the meet. In 23 meetings between the programs, 17 were decided by razor-thin margins of half a point or less.
To senior Alyssa Baumann, the Gators hit their stride at the right time as they head into the showdown.
“Practices have been going really well, really efficient,” she said. “I think each week it looks like we’re getting better, and we’re really focusing on little details.”
The team looks forward to Friday night because they know many of their opponents through competing in club gymnastics, junior Savannah Schoenherr said. The Tigers, to Schoenherr, are the Gators’ biggest rival.
Coach Jenny Rowland also told the team to keep everything consistent, Schoenherr said.
“Jenny [Rowland] likes to tell us a lot to keep everything normal, not to change anything up,” she said. “Because when you start to change things, that’s when mistakes start happening.”
The team has worked on stuck landings and cast handstands, Baumann said. The bye week gave Florida ample time to improve on those details and recuperate after four grueling meets.
Gymnastics is a taxing sport on the human body because athletes have to go 100% on every rep. If an athlete doesn’t go all out, the chances of suffering a severe injury is high.
Rowland said she relieves the strain on her team’s bodies by implementing soft landings with a special mat. She also has them practice an hour less than normal.
For motivation, junior Nya Reed brought Rowland a “stick chain” after their victory over No. 5 Arkansas. Her inspiration derived from Florida’s in-state rival the Miami Hurricanes’ “turnover chain.”
Florida debuted its shiny new prop Jan. 29 against Missouri and plans to bring it to future meets, Reed said.
The Gators believe this tactic works because they had several stuck landings after senior Megan Skaggs was the first crowned with the chain.
“It has put a little bit of competition between all of us because we want the stick chain,” freshman Gabrielle Gallentine said. “Everyone wants it. It has put a little bit of pressure on us in practice and competition to stick our landings more.”
The emphasis on details, such as finishing a routine with a perfect landing, carried Florida to a nation-high score of 197.850. It now holds four of the top 10 scores, according to Road to Nationals.
UF has also continued its dominance in a Thanos-like fashion, flashing no weakness. It ranks top three in every exercise, including being listed first on the vault and balance beam events.
Florida stumbled out of the starting blocks on bars, recording a season-low 49.050. But since its meet versus Auburn, it has climbed from 12th to third.
Rowland, however, was dealt a tough blow a day before the meet Friday. Chalk Warrior’s Thomas Cluck reported that junior Sydney Johnson-Scharpf will miss a couple of weeks after suffering a pulled hip flexor injury in a fall against Missouri.
She was a staple in the beam and floor lineups, but Rowland will have junior Leah Clapper, freshman Ellie Lazzari and Schoenherr as options to replace her.
The hype reaches its climax as the meet starts at 7:30 p.m. and can be streamed on SEC Network.
Contact Zachary Huber at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber