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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Florida clashes versus Alabama for SEC crown

The Gators take on their eighth-ranked foe versus the Crimson Tide

Lazzari’s near-perfect score set a new personal best. Photo from UF-Mizzou game Jan. 29.
Lazzari’s near-perfect score set a new personal best. Photo from UF-Mizzou game Jan. 29.

Coach Jenny Rowland believed freshman Ellie Lazzari would record her first 10 versus Auburn. Rowland felt elated after her dazzling balance beam routine because the freshman finally replicated what she displayed in practices. 

Lazzari’s near-perfect score set a new personal best. Coach Jenny Rowland rushed over, hugged her and almost picked her off the ground. 

The freshman will tally a perfect score in the future, Rowland said with confidence. 

“It just fuels her, even more, to come in here and just fix those little bitty details that are so mentally challenging to change,” Rowland said. “But she’s stepping up those challenges daily, and it’s going to happen, I know it's going to happen.”

No. 1 Florida will battle No. 6 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at 8:30 p.m. Friday for sole possession of the SEC Regular Season Championship — and an undefeated season. Florida and the Crimson Tide met 59-consecutive times with a top-10 ranking attached to both of their names.

The Gator now rank first in every event after their Feb. 26 victory over No. 12 Auburn. The squad demolished every ranked opponent and challenge tossed at them this season. They crushed every obstacle so far. They defeated No. 3 LSU, No. 8 Arkansas and the Tigers twice. 

The dominant wins over top-15 opponents makes it difficult to stay humble, junior Nya Reed said.

But the team remembers the 2019 NCAA Regionals where two beam falls halted them from advancing to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2000. They also recall the collision course No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Florida dashed toward until the 2020 season ended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The last two years has been a little bit of a roller coaster for us upperclassmen,” Reed said. “I think that’s our drive, that’s our push, and we also know that we deserve everything that is coming for us. We deserve a ring. We deserve a title.”

Last week, UF reclaimed the highest score in the nation (198.275). The No. 2 Oklahoma held the top spot with a 198.225. 

Junior Trinity Thomas lifted the team to new heights when she recorded two 10s versus the Tigers. Former Gator Alex McMurtry is the only other Florida gymnast to achieve that feat. 

Thomas didn’t stand at the mountain top alone, however. Junior Leah Clapper and Lazzari aided her effort and scored a 9.975 on beam.

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Rowland emphasized earlier this season about the importance of peaking at the correct time. The Gators posted two scores of 198 or greater in the last three weeks. It seems they continue to inch toward their climax several weeks before the NCAA Championship. But Rowland believes Florida can ascend further. 

“We’ve continuously improved every meet in different areas,” Rowland said. “The exciting part is that we haven’t put an entire meet together that we know we’re capable of doing.”

The meet starts Friday at 8:30 p.m. The action will stream on the SEC Network Alternate channel. 

Contact Zachary Huber at zhuber@alligator.org or follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber

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