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Friday, April 19, 2024

Florida gymnastics starts season with dominant victory

No. 2 Gators, No. 1 all-around gymnast Trinity Thomas start 2023 strong

Freshman Kayla DiCello performs her beam routine in a quad meet against the West Virginia Mountaineers, Ball State Cardinals and Lindenwood Lions Friday, Jan. 6, 2023.
Freshman Kayla DiCello performs her beam routine in a quad meet against the West Virginia Mountaineers, Ball State Cardinals and Lindenwood Lions Friday, Jan. 6, 2023.

Florida Gators gymnastics’ dominant opening meet lived up to its lofty expectations and No. 2 ranking.

The Gators competed in a four-team meet against the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Ball State Cardinals and the Lindenwood Lions. They were playing at home, and they were the only ranked team competing. Florida came into the meet as the heavy favorite, and its performance reflected that.

It finished with a score of 197.750, almost three points higher than the next-best team. The Gators won each event and broke their season-opening score record for the fifth year in a row. They looked the part of the No. 2 team in the nation.

Going into its eighth season under head coach Jenny Rowland, UF has established itself as a gymnastics powerhouse. The 2022 team earned two of the top five highest team scores in National Collegiate Athletic Association history, and it lost to Oklahoma in the 2022 national championship.

Despite its recent success, fifth-year Trinity Thomas said the 2023 squad is the hardest-working team she’s seen.

“Bringing all of us together and having so much passion and so much grit to work towards a national championship is incredible,” Thomas said.

Thomas has become the face of Florida gymnastics throughout her time in Gainesville. The Gators have been home to many great players for more than a decade, but Thomas has cemented herself as an all-time great.

She enters the season as the No. 1 all-around player in the country, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s preseason rankings. Thomas was also the only player in the country to rank in the top six in all four events — uneven bars, balance beam, vault and floor.

The 2022 Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Year came up big in the first meet of the year. She earned the highest score in every event she competed in and earned her 21st career perfect 10.

Thomas has a near-endless amount of accolades, but she’s missing one piece to round out her trophy case — an NCAA team championship.

“This team deserves it more than you know, and we're going to work for it,” Thomas said. “That's exactly why I came back.”

However, the team has a major hurdle to overcome. Graduate student Savannah Schoenherr broke her foot in a non-gymnastics-related incident, she announced on Twitter Thursday.

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Schoenherr was at the event but was unable to compete. Rowland said the night was difficult for Schoenherr, but the fifth-year Gator is tackling the obstacle head-on.

“She told me that she didn't come back to make every lineup,” Rowland said. “She committed to being the best teammate she could be.”

Schoenherr announced her return to the team July 27 for her fifth year, and her season debut will have to wait. The team proved it could compete in her absence, she said, but she looks forward to having Schoenherr back in the lineup.

“Six weeks will go by very quickly,” Rowland said. “Then we have several weeks to go after that.”

The Gators will turn to their newcomers to fill the void left by Schoenherr’s injury. 

Graduate transfer Rachel Baumann and freshman Kayla DiCello have already proved they could be valuable to the team. Baumann earned the highest floor routine score and the second-highest score on the vault. DiCello had the highest all-around score on the night.

Florida’s roster is very deep, Rowland said, so everyone will have opportunities to prove their worth.

“That's a good problem,” she said. “A hard problem, but a good problem.”

DiCello, redshirt freshman Morgan Hurd and freshman Lori Brubach made their collegiate debuts Friday. Baumann and junior Victoria Nguyen transferred from Georgia and made their Florida debuts in the quad meet. Florida’s new arrivals will have opportunities to compete with five players missing from the 2022 roster.

Florida’s next challenge comes against the No. 6 Auburn Tigers. The teams will face off at 7:15 p.m. Jan. 13 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, and the match will be streamed on ESPN2.

Contact Kyle Bumpers at kbumpers@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @BumpersKyle.


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Kyle Bumpers

Kyle Bumpers is a fourth-year journalism major and the sports editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he cries about Russell Wilson and writes an outrageous amount of movie reviews on Letterboxd.


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