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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Florida gymnastics earns fifth straight SEC title

Gators secure SEC title with win against No. 12 Kentucky

Florida gymnast Sloane Blakely performs her floor routine in the Gators’ meet against the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. UF clinched the SEC title with their victory.
Florida gymnast Sloane Blakely performs her floor routine in the Gators’ meet against the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. UF clinched the SEC title with their victory.

Graduate student Trinity Thomas stepped off the floor in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center for the final time. Thomas’ teammates embraced her as the Florida Gators gymnastics team earned the title of 2023 Southeastern Conference regular season champions. 

Thomas beamed with pride as the Gators hoisted their fifth-straight SEC regular season title, all of which she had been a part of. 

The No. 2 Florida Gators (9-1, 6-1 SEC) beat the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats (7-3, 4-2 SEC) to become SEC champions for the fifth season in a row. Florida’s 198.150-point score — its second-highest score of the 2023 season — surpassed the Wildcats’ score of 197.575 to give UF the SEC title.

Florida head coach Jenny Rowland was ecstatic for her team following its SEC-clinching victory. 

“It blows my mind,” Rowland said. “I don’t think they quite understand what a feat that is. The coaching staff most definitely does.” 

To kick off the Gators’ successful SEC season, sophomore Leanne Wong reached near perfection against the then-No. 5 Auburn Tigers Jan. 13. She scored 10s in the uneven bars and balance beam to help lift Florida to victory.

Wong joined Thomas and former gymnast Alex McMurtry as one of three Gators in program history to earn two 10s in a single meet. 

Freshman Kayla DiCello became one of Florida’s biggest contributors as soon as she stepped foot in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. She’s received five SEC Freshman of the Week honors and put up big-time performances throughout SEC play.

DiCello reached perfection for the first time of her collegiate career against the then-No. 15 Missouri Tigers Feb. 10. She was given a 10 after she delivered a flawless bars routine.

Thomas is also no stranger to success in SEC matchups. 

The decorated Gator achieved history as the only gymnast in NCAA history to achieve four gym slams — meaning she has scored a perfect score in each event at least four times. She earned her fourth-career gym slam when she obtained a perfect score on the vault against the then-No. 17 Georgia Bulldogs Jan. 27.

Thomas’ success has been a mainstay throughout the season, and she continues to inch closer to the NCAA record for most 10s in a career. She sits at 25 career 10s, which puts her three away from making history. Her most recent 10 came in the Gators’ loss to the No. 8 Louisiana State Tigers. 

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Thomas has been a part of the Florida Gators gymnastics team for every year of its reign as SEC regular season champions. Thomas has high hopes for the Gators’ future following their 2023 SEC title win.

“We’ve worked hard for it,” Thomas said. “This isn’t the end for this team. I can’t wait to see what we do moving forward.”

The Gators lost on the road against LSU (4-5, 4-3 SEC) Feb. 17. Florida finished with a score of 197.975 — its highest road score of the season — but was edged out by LSU’s season-best score of 198.100. 

The loss to the Tigers was the Gators’ first SEC loss since 2019. Thomas spoke highly of the team following the upset loss on the road. 

“Life is full of obstacles, and that is nothing new to this team,” Thomas said. “Honestly, it was a good bump in the road because it got us back in the gym working harder and focusing more.”

Florida’s next meet comes against the No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners at 9 p.m. March 3 in Norman, Oklahoma. The game will be broadcast on ESPN 2. 

Contact Jori Rzepecki at Follow her on Twitter @jorirzepecki.

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Jori Rzepecki

Jori Rzepecki is a first-year journalism major and the Gymnastics reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she enjoys binge-watching television shows and reading books.

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