After coming desperately close to national championship glory last year, coach Jenny Rowland’s message to her team before Friday’s season-opener was brief and unwavering: “stay fresh”
The Gators finished fourth in the NCAA Team Final nine months ago after a pair of falls from Peyton Richards and Trinity Thomas. But Rowland has encouraged her team to shelve the “what if’s” and start fresh with a strong freshman class and a UF roster teeming with Olympic talent
“We have a strong core, a strong heartbeat from our team last year, and they have done a really good job of leading this freshman team and showing them the Gator Way.”
Alyssa Baumann, a graduate senior who capitalized on the extra year of eligibility granted to college athletes, eagerly chimed in after Rowland.
“It motivated me enough to come back,” Baumann said about last year’s shortcoming. “I’m excited for this team, and I don’t think that we have come even close to showing everything that we have.”
Gators gymnastics emphatically embraced Rowland’s “start fresh” mantra Friday night, cruising to a quad-meet victory against Northern Illinois, Rutgers and Texas Woman’s College and setting a program record for points in a season-opener.
Their winning total of 197.675 secured the victory; Northern Illinois followed with a 194.550, and Texas Woman’s University and Rutgers rounded out the scoring with a 193.700 and 192.075 respectively.
Senior Trinity Thomas got things started for the Gators on the vault in rotation 1, winning the event with a 9.95. Florida’s individual dominance continued throughout the night, as a Florida gymnast won each event title on the night.
In rotation 2, it was more of the same for two Gators on the uneven bars. Senior Savannah Schoenherr earned a 9.875 as did freshman Leanne Wong in her collegiate debut.
Florida led wire-to-wire on the night in front of a raucous crowd of 8,219 in Exactech Arena. Freshman Sloane Blakely had a stellar Gator debut, sharing the balance beam title in rotation 3 with fellow Gator Leah Clapper at 9.95 and taking the all-around crown at a 39.450.
Baumann capped off the win with an electric rotation 4 floor routine win, scoring a collegiate-best 9.975. Florida dominated the leaderboards in every aspect, placing a gymnast in the top 3 scores of each of the night’s events. This was especially true on the balance beam, where Gators took each of the top 5 spots in the event that famously plagued the 2021 team in last year’s NCAA final.
Florida will follow their season opening win back in Exactech Arena in a star-studded SEC dual meet against No. 6 Alabama Sunday afternoon. Coverage will be aired on ABC beginning at 2:45 in a rematch with the reigning SEC champion Crimson Tide.
Contact Caleb Wiegandt at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @CalebWiegandt