HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Gators sat tied for second place after a strong performance on vault.
But that’s when Florida’s wheels peeled off the tracks.
Sophomore Savannah Schoenherr and senior Alyssa Baumann failed to pull themselves on the top bar up on their handstands. Both sighed and hung from it like it was a monkey bar before they resumed their routine.
Florida recorded a season-low 48.725 on the bars.
Their subpar scores drowned the Gators’ SEC Championship odds Saturday night in Huntsville. They finished third with a 196.975 behind Alabama and LSU.
Coach Jenny Rowland told the team after the meet that failure isn’t fatal, and it’s their courage that counted.
Florida soared in the regular season when cornered. It tallied a top-15 score in the country versus Kentucky without 36% of its lineup. The Gators then beat No. 8 Alabama after junior Trinity Thomas suffered an ankle injury in warmups. She only competed on bars because of her injury.
Florida missed her on the vault exercise as it tallied a 49.35, a tenth lower than its average. Juniors Schoenherr and Nya Reed led the Gators with 9.9s.
Alabama’s Luisa Blanco and Lexi Graber carried their team to the lead with 9.95s after the first rotation. Florida entered the second rotation, the bars, tied for second place.
UF collapsed on bars, however. Schoenherr and Baumann made costly mistakes during their performance. With two mistakes, Florida had to count Baumann’s 9.325.
The Crimson Tide rode four scores of 9.9 or better on vault to a comfortable 99-98.65 lead over second place LSU. The Gators collapsed to last with a 98.075 and an insurmountable deficit to overcome.
Florida suffered another fall on beam. Sophomore Payton Richards failed to keep her balance and hopped off the beam in the lead off spot. She also fell on vault and her last tumbling pass in her floor routine.
But this time, the team recovered well. They rallied as Baumann and freshman Ellie Lazzari scored a 9.95.
The Crimson Tide’s Blanco, Shania Adams and Makarri Doggette recorded 9.95s on bars, which secured their lead.
The Tigers’ Kiya Johnson tallied a 10 that helped them cut Alabama’s lead. Two others also registered a 9.925, but LSU still lagged behind 148.425-148.15
Lazzari and Baumann led all Florida gymnasts on floor with 9.9s just like they did on beam.
Florida finished third as chants of “Bama” roared through the arena and Alabama made snowflakes in the SEC-colored confetti.
To Rowland, the issues on bars snowballed to the point they became difficult to overcome.
“It was hard to continue to move forward throughout the evening, and it was start and stop and start and stop, which makes for a really challenging competition,” she said.
The Gators rebounded well on beam and floor, but they left too many tenths out there on the first two events. Baumann and Lazzari shared the SEC beam title with Alabama’s Graber and Blanco.
“We have so much more to offer,” Lazzari said about the loss. “This is just the beginning of the postseason. We just have a long ways to go, so we’re just ready to get back in the gym.”
One of the Gators’ strengths, Rowland said, is their resilience.
“This is gonna sting a lot for them,” she said. “It’s gonna give them that little fuel to continue to take those steps forward.”
Florida will have to regroup after an ugly performance at SECs. NCAA Regionals will begin at the start of April.
Contact Zachary Huber at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber