If Florida and coach Jenny Rowland aren’t doused in confetti while they hoist the NCAA Championship Trophy, their 2021 season would be deemed a failure.
Florida went through their all-SEC schedule undefeated against all-ranked opponents. They knocked off No. 3 LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and beat No. 6 Alabama without star gymnast junior Trinity Thomas.
Florida even cruised to victory against No. 14 Kentucky with the head coach and four of its best gymnasts sidelined.
The Gators rank first in each of the four events. They head into the postseason as a virtual lock because of the dominance they displayed to bring a fourth National Championship to Gainesville.
But the regular season presented many challenges like injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic.
It's a steep mountain to climb when key contributors miss a meet.
But not for the Gators. Thomas, Rowland, juniors Savannah Schoenherr, Nya Reed and Sydney Johnson-Scharpf were held out Feb. 19 versus the Wildcats due to COVID-19 contact tracing.
The team competed without 36% of their normal lineups, Rowland said. However, Florida shined and posted its fourth-highest team score of the season. It also sits as the 11th best score in the country, according to Road to Nationals.
Seniors Alyssa Baumann and Megan Skaggs and junior Leah Clapper carried the torch in their absence. Baumann competed in the all-around for the first time in her four years at Florida. She recorded the highest all-around score in Florida history in her debut: a 39.65.
Baumann dazzled for the Gators against the Tigers. She breezed through her second collegiate bars routine with a 9.9. The week before, she became tear-ridden after her first performance earned a 9.825.
The score made her emotional because she suffered a severe elbow injury while she trained for the U.S. Olympic Trials. She withdrew her bid to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Clapper then stepped in for Thomas on the balance beam. She tallied her first career 10. Skaggs recorded two 9.925s, one on beam and another on the uneven parallel bars.
Rowland proved that the Gators have depth beyond Thomas, the No. 1 gymnast in the country.
She preached that her team is only as strong as their weakest link. But the team believes it.
And once again, Florida showcased that its weakest link is as fearsome as the rest of the roster.
Senior Jazmyn Foberg and junior Halley Taylor saw the least amount of action this season. But they rose to the occasion when Rowland called on them.
Foberg scored a 9.85 on the vault exercise at home against No. 12 Auburn. Taylor soared on beam for a 9.825, her collegiate best, against the Wildcats.
Rowland also lauded the competition her squad displayed in practice. Every gymnast, she said, fights for a spot in the six-spot lineup.
After the first few meets, Florida held most of the five-highest scores in the country. Rowland said her squad wasn't anywhere close to their climax. It seemed like the Gators peaked too soon. They posted two scores north of 198 in four weeks against LSU and Auburn.
“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.”
But Rowland brushed off any concerns and confidently said that Florida can ascend further.
After they earned their third SEC Regular Season Championship, the Gators will hunt for their 13th SEC Championship in Alabama and their fourth national title in mid-April. The national title would mark their first with Rowland at the helm.
Their fourth National Championship is the Gators' to lose.
Contact Zachary Huber at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber