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Friday, October 15, 2021

Gators reload for 2022

Florida brings majority of roster back for next season

<p>Freshman Ellie Lazzari performs on the bars against Kentucky Feb. 19</p>

Freshman Ellie Lazzari performs on the bars against Kentucky Feb. 19

Tears pooled in senior Megan Skaggs’ eyes as she finished her uneven bars routine. 

She wanted to have fun on her last routine and knew she would stick the dismount before she even landed, she said. Skaggs twisted through the air like an acrobatic performer at a circus, nailed the landing and earned a 9.9375, just shy of her career-high. 

The dam began to crack as she hugged assistant coach Owen Field. She walked down the steps of the podium and the levy bursted in her brown-colored eyes when Skaggs greeted coach Jenny Rowland. 

She became emotional because it could’ve potentially been her final routine in a Gators-colored leotard. 

“That was just my love for the sport, for the girls, for everything we put into that,” Skaggs said. “All of that was flowing through me when I landed.”

Skaggs and her other senior classmate Alyssa Baumann have to make a decision on whether they want to return to help Florida capture its fourth National Championship. Their potential return would bolster its chances and perhaps make the Gators the favorite in 2022. 

Florida’s other senior Jazmyn Foberg created an Instagram post with pictures of her first in gymnastics as a toddler and in college. She thanked the sport and everyone for their support in her career and signaled that she won’t take the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted.  

“The journey really, it didn’t start this year,” Skaggs said about Rowlaand’s message to the team. “It started 2019 and just rolling off the emotions of qualifying for nationals and then making it all the way here to be in the top four is such an incredible accomplishment.”

The Gators, however, still came up short in the NCAA Championship after they ranked first throughout the regular season, according to Road to Nationals. What went awry? Injuries and lack of reliable roster depth. 

Rowland lauded her team’s depth on numerous occasions this season. But the postseason and injuries showcased that the roster stood shallow as a stream. 

Junior Trinity Thomas, Florida’s star, dealt with an ankle sprain for the final two months of the season. Junior Sydney Johnson-Scharpf ruptured her Achilles in the NCAA Regional Final. Junior Savannah Schoenherr competed in every meet except versus No. 11 Kentucky because she sat out due to COVID-19 contact tracing, but an injury nagged her, too.  

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Schoenherr tweeted Tuesday to clear the air after her mother, Tracie Schoenherr, commented on Facebook in response to Gators’ fans concerns after she suffered an injury during her bars routine that she finished the season with a foot fracture. Savannah wrote that she competed the last two months of the season with an early stage stress fracture in her foot and that it was her decision to keep competing. 

Schoenherr, however, still became a 2021 All-American for the vault exercise. 

Florida survived despite all the injuries with the help of Skaggs, Baumann, freshman Ellie Lazzari, and juniors Leah Clapper and Nya Reed. 

Lazzari proved to be as consistent and reliable as LeBron James to score 25 points or more every game. She recorded a career-high of 9.9 or higher on every event this season. 

Clapper showcased how much she blossomed since 2020. She tallied her first career perfect score on the balance beam and posted a career-high 9.875 on bars and 9.9 on floor. 

Reed stole the show out each meet out with her floor exercise. She never scored below a 9.925 all season along. The junior still chases her first career 10. 

Skaggs became Florida’s most improved. She competed in every event routinely instead of just on vault and bars. 

All of the above were named an All-American for Florida in at least one event. 

Even if Skaggs and Baumann choose to end their collegiate careers, Florida returns the majority of its roster, including its mammoth junior class that absorbs half of the roster that includes Thomas. 

Florida inked five gymnasts in its 2022 recruiting class. It gained two 2021 signees, RIley McCusker and Morgan Hurd, who deferred their enrollment to vy for a spot on the 2021 U.S. Olympic team. One 2022 signee Sloane Blakely will also pursue a spot with Hurd and McCusker. 

The Gators look poised, regardless, to become a favorite for the 2022 NCAA National Championship.

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

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