The Gators’ gymnastics team will have a chance at redemption after it advanced to the 2023 National Collegiate Athletic Association National Championship Thursday.
Florida fell from first to last after two rotations. A strong floor performance anchored by sophomore Leanne Wong helped the Gators clinch a spot in the NCAA Championship, where they finished second in the 2022 season.
Graduate student Trinity Thomas returned from injury and excelled with a 9.95 on bars and a 9.90 on vault to give her one last shot at a title.
The No. 2 Florida Gators (26-4, 6-1 SEC) finished second in Session One of the National Semifinal with a score of 197.400. The Louisiana State Tigers (8-5, 4-3 SEC) finished in first with a 197.4750. The California Golden Bears (17-2-2, 4-1-2 Pac-12) and the Denver Pioneers (7-3, 2-1 Big 12) finished third and fourth with scores of 196.9125 and 196.500, respectively.
The Gators got off to a shaky start after sophomore Sloane Blakely fell off the bars to start her routine; she received a 9.2375 score to open the meet.
Florida quickly recovered with two solid scores from junior Victoria Nguyen and freshman Kayla DiCello. Graduate student Trinity Thomas made her return to the lineup after she suffered an injury March 31. She dazzled in her routine and received a 9.95 in her first routine back.
Sophomore Leanne Wong followed Thomas’ performance with a 9.9375. The Gators finished the first rotation in front with a 49.4875 uneven bars score. Cal finished 0.50 behind UF after rotation one.
Blakely recovered from her early error to get the Gators started on the beam. She received a 9.9375 to kick off the lineup.
DiCello received a 9.925, but the rest of Florida’s lineup dealt with balance deductions. UF scored a 49.0875 on beam and fell to last place after the second rotation.
Nguyen began the Gators’ comeback with a 9.90 for Florida’s first floor routine of the event.
Blakely went next on floor and finished strong with a 9.85 as the Gators’ stayed in contention. Senior Payton Richards struggled with deductions on the beam, but she responded with a 9.925 on the floor.
Richards’ score of 9.925 is her floor-high in her five NCAA Championship floor performances.
Wong kept Florida’s floor momentum going with a 9.9625 on the floor. She received a perfect 10.0 from three of the six floor judges — two scores shy of giving her a 10.0 for the event.
DiCello closed out UF’s floor lineup with a 9.90. The Gators’ floor score of 49.525 catapulted them back into first place heading into Florida’s final rotation — vault. Florida held a score of 148.100 after three rotations, and LSU trailed closely behind with a score of 148.000
Wong led off for the Gators on vault. She received a 9.8625 to start the routine. Florida continued to rack up solid performances.
Thomas finished her return to gymnastics with a 9.90 on the vault. Nguyen received a 9.8625 to secure a 49.300 team score on vault. The performance was good enough to clinch a spot in the National Championship.
The Tigers pulled ahead in the final rotation to finish first in the first National Semifinal Session with a score of 197.475. UF finished in second with a score of 197.400.
The Gators will look to win their fourth NCAA National Championship Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas. The meet will begin at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast on ABC.
Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.