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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Gators gymnastics is lights-out at the SEC Championship

Florida takes home its 11th SEC Championship title and first since 2016

Graduate student Megan Skaggs and the Gators beat out three SEC opponents Saturday to clinch the Conference championship
Graduate student Megan Skaggs and the Gators beat out three SEC opponents Saturday to clinch the Conference championship

Florida was nothing short of dominant at the 41st SEC Championship and will head back to Gainesville with new hardware. 

As UF hoisted their trophy, echoes of “it’s great to be a Florida Gator” filled Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Gators came into the meet as the top seed and didn’t disappoint. UF finished Saturday night with a score of 198.200 and was the only team to surpass the 198 barrier. 

Senior Trinity Thomas put on a clinic, starting postseason play with a bang. Her 39.825 all-around score proved that she is the definition of an all-around gymnast. 

“[The all-around title] means the world because I’ve been trying to get this since my freshman year,” Thomas said. “I’m just really proud.” 

No. 2 Florida (13-0-1) competed in session two alongside No. 5 LSU, who they defeated in Gainesville Feb. 11 and Auburn and Alabama, who entered Friday tied at No. 6. 

In session one, No. 9 Kentucky, No. 11 Missouri, No. 17 Arkansas and No. 22 Georgia competed, with Missouri leading at the end with 196.875. 

All-SEC programs entered the night among the nation’s top 25. The top seed, UF had the advantage of the Olympic rotation (vault-bars-beam-floor). 

Graduate student Megan Skaggs, senior Savannah Schoenherr and freshman Leanne Wong led things off for the Gators with a trio of 9.850s on the vault. 

Senior Nya Reed flew down the runway and shot off the board with a distance over 10ft. She picked up a 9.950 after sticking her landing. Thomas followed up with her third 9.975 vault of the season. 

LSU got off to a lousy start on bars with both junior Kiya Johnson and graduate student Sami Durante falling on the event. The Tigers struggled to settle in all night and suffered another fall from sophomore Haleigh Bryant in the final rotation on vault. 

Auburn’s Suni Lee also fell victim to her nerves and uncharacteristically the Olympic gold medalist took a spill on beam. However, she ended the night on a high as she was perfect on bars and led the Tigers to a program record in the event.

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The Gators continued to dominate in the second rotation. 

Skaggs and Thomas earned consecutive 9.950’s on bars after Thomas stuck her double layout and Skaggs equaled her collegiate-best for the third time in the last four meets. 

“[The Gators] are executing like they do in practice,” head coach Jenny Rowland said. “We’re staying in our own bubble; we’re competing against the Gators tonight.”

Alabama was Florida’s only real competition of the night and had a solid showing on vault for its second rotation. Graduate student Lexi Graber nailed her Yurchenko 1.5 posting a 9.900 followed by freshman Lilly Hudson’s own 9.900. 

Heading into rotation three, UF was dealing and had built plenty of momentum at the halfway point. The Gators led Alabama by .175, Auburn by .625 and LSU by a whopping .825. 

The beam is where the Gators really started to pull away from the competition. Skaggs is pure money in the leadoff spot and put up a 9.950 to start. 

Freshman Sloane Blakley and Senior Leah Clapper earned 9.900’s, while Wong’s double-twist dismount stuck for a 9.975 and her collegiate-best. 

Thomas sprinted into her routine with a beautiful switch leap to place her atop the beam. She kept to the theme and stuck her landing, garnering a 9.925. 

The 49.700 on the apparatus broke Florida’s SEC Championship record. 

“I’m so happy and so proud of everyone tonight and how we performed,” Skaggs said. “It’s just another step in the process, so we’re going to keep training and keep competing how we train.”

The Gators set themselves up for success entering the final rotation with only the Crimson Tide still in contention for the title. LSU trailed by 1.200 and Auburn behind 1.100. 

Skaggs was dialed in and finished her floor exercise with a 9.900, a score Reed would match. Wong’s elegant tumbling was awarded by a 9.925. Thomas was near perfect, executing her double layout and showcasing her flexibility and control for a 9.975. 

Alabama tried to keep it a tight race but fell short, just like junior Luisa Blanco’s closing performance on beam that ended in her crashing to the mat after her dismount. 

Florida cruised by its opponents and finished .375 ahead of ‘Bama, who finished in second. 

The Gators swept the top placements of the all-around. Thomas took the crown while Skaggs and Wong tied with 39.650s.

Thomas also won the vault and floor titles while Wong took beam and Skaggs secured the win on bars. 

“Our story doesn’t end here,” Rowland said. 

The Gators have plenty to build off of as they set their sights on NCAA Regionals from March 30 to April 2. 

Contact Madeline Lawson at Follow her on Twitter @MadsLaws.

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