The Gators needed a strong performance from senior Alyssa Baumann after they ruled out junior Trinity Thomas with an ankle injury 30 minutes before the meet.
Baumann breezed through the first routine, the uneven bars, with ease. She kept her legs glued together and nailed every handstand. But she under rotated on the dismount that caused her to fall to her knees on the landing.
She stepped onto the floor two exercises later like nothing happened. She cruised through her routine and shushed her critics after every tumbling pass. She salvaged her performance Friday with a 9.975. Then she came through for her team again on the balance beam and recorded a 9.85.
However, it was no Thomas, no problem for the Gators. Baumann and the Gators defeated the No. 6 Crimson Tide 197.425-197.225 to finish the season unbeaten. Their victory clinched the SEC Regular Season Championship outright.
Florida’s chances to claim the SEC Regular Season Championship solely took a hit early. Thomas suffered her injury during her bars warm-ups. She grabbed the lower bar in warm-ups and completed her routine without issue until the landing. She tossed and turned through the air and tweaked her ankle when her feet touched the mat.
Florida’s star gymnast crumbled to the ground in serious pain as a few tears swelled in her eyes.
Coach Jenny Rowland and the Gators covered their mouths in shock. Because it looked like their hopes to win another SEC and NCAA Championship vanished into midair.
But she stood up and walked off the mat under her own power. Florida held her out of the meet versus Alabama as a precaution. Rowland said the mood of the team shifted after the incident.
“You could see that the team was sincerely upset for Trinity,” she said. “Yet this team (has) one heart, they work together, and they did it for each other. (They) persevered, and I do believe that that's what helped them get through this entire competition tonight.”
No. 1 Florida felt her absence on the uneven parallel bars. The meet started off bumpy like it drove down a gravel road. It counted freshman Gabrielle Gallentine’s 9.725 and sophomore Payton Richards’ 9.7 because of Baumann’s fall. She recorded a drop score of 9.2. The Gators scored a 49.075, their second-lowest on the season.
The Crimson Tide pounced on UF’s miscues. Sophomore Luisa Blanco helped Alabama to a team score of 49.3 with a 9.925.
Florida surged back on the vault exercise. Junior Nya Reed, freshman Ellie Lazzari and senior Megan Skaggs scored a 9.9. The Gators cut their deficit in half to 98.625-98.475. Lazzari set a career-high with her performance Friday.
Alabama left the door wide open for the Gators to stay within a hair of the lead as it recorded a 49.325. Blanco stole the title for bars and vault with a 9.95 and 9.925, respectively.
They trimmed the Crimson Tide’s lead farther after the third rotation. Reed and Lazzari delivered clutch performances with a 9.95 and a 9.9 along with Baumann’s high score.
Blanco registered Alabama’s only score greater than 9.9. The Gators rotated to the final event, the balance beam, with a 148-147.95 lead.
Florida secured the win with one gymnast left to perform on each side. The Crimson Tide’s Shallon Olsen tallied a 9.675 and forced them to count two 9.75.
The Gators kept their focus on the balance beam, however. Skaggs and Lazzari turned in scores of 9.925 and 9.9.
Florida claimed its third SEC Regular Season Championship since 2017 and second-consecutive undefeated SEC season. The Gators next meet is March 20 when they head to the SEC Championships in Huntsville, Alabama.
Contact Zachary Huber at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.