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Friday, February 03, 2023

Looking ahead, the Gators must conquer bars woes

Florida hopes to recover after SEC Championship

Trinity Thomas only performed on bars at the SEC Championships. Photo from UF-Mizzou meet Jan. 29.
Trinity Thomas only performed on bars at the SEC Championships. Photo from UF-Mizzou meet Jan. 29.

Florida’s performance on the uneven bars bobbed up and down like a rollercoaster this season. 

The Gators started 11th at the end of week two. They then rose to the fourth spot in two weeks. Florida plateaued until week eight versus Auburn

It seems like UF’s execution hit its peak and headed for one last drop before the ride ends for good. The team recorded a 48.725 Saturday at the SEC Championship, and it sounded like they didn’t know what went wrong. 

“We made a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes,” senior Alyssa Baumann said. “Mistakes that we don't see in the gym that often. Not sure if it was pressure or what the issue was, but it wasn't normal for us.”

The mistakes cost the Gators a chance to secure another SEC Championship because they had to count Baumann’s pitiful 9.325 after sophomore Savannah Schoenherr recorded a score south of 9.3. Florida tallied a 48.725, its worst score this season on the event. 

Coach Jenny Rowland and her squad need to iron out these miscues quickly to avoid another early postseason exit. The NCAA Regionals sit just two weeks away. 

Mishaps on bars wasn’t the only problem for them Saturday. Sophomore Payton Richards fell on every event except bars. 

She under rotated on her vault and fell. Richards then lost her footing and hopped off the balance beam. The Mokena, Illinois, native struggled to nail her leaps and fell on her last tumbling pass.

Junior Leah Clapper hasn’t lost faith in her, however. 

“I hope that she can keep her head up and keep moving forward,” she said. “I just want to give her a big hug, and we all love her so much. So my heart goes out to Pay(ton), and I know she’s gonna be OK.”

Her falls didn’t doom the team because none of her scores officially counted. But if Richards attained a 9.8 on every event, her average score this season, the team could have overcome their faults on bars. 

Junior Trinity Thomas’ injury also harassed the Gators. She twisted her ankle in a bars warmup before they clashed against Alabama. Florida sidelined her for the meet as a precaution. 

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Rowland updated her status during the bye week before SECs. She said Thomas returned to practice and hinted that she would compete at the conference championship. 

However, Rowland said they discussed that there are five weeks left and that they don’t want to aggravate her injury. 

At the media availability a couple days before their trip to Huntsville, Alabama, Rowland said she didn’t believe Thomas would perform on every event. 

The SEC released Florida’s lineups and only listed Thomas for bars. The York, Pennsylvania, native looked shaky as she gingerly took a step forward on the landing for a 9.85, her lowest score in 2021 on the event. 

Florida proved it’s capable of surviving without her versus Kentucky and the Crimson Tide. 

But Thomas is like the Lebron James of collegiate gymnastics, as she ranks No. 1 in the all-around. She poses a threat to hang a perfect score on every event. 

In fact, Thomas achieved two 10s in Florida’s last home meet. The Gators need her back at full strength if they hope to knock off Oklahoma, LSU and Michigan.

However, Rowland believes the defeat is only a minor setback. 

"I really am 100% confident that this team has the courage to take the step forward and continue to do what they've been doing, and training with that confidence and conviction,” she said. “I know the Gators are going to finish strongly.”

The NCAA announced Monday that Florida is the top seed in the NCAA Gymnastics Championship. The Gators head to Athens, Georgia, to start their postseason run April 2. 

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



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