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Sunday, April 21, 2024

No. 5 Gators gymnastics upsets No. 2 LSU in Friday night thriller

Leanne Wong earned a gym slam after a 10 on the floor routine

Junior Leanne Wong excels in her floor routine to earn a 10 and bring home the win for the Gators against LSU, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.
Junior Leanne Wong excels in her floor routine to earn a 10 and bring home the win for the Gators against LSU, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

In the final apparatus of Friday’s Gators gymnastics meet, both teams were within fingertips of victory. UF graduate student Payton Richards shined in her floor routine until she fell to the floor off a tumble in her first pass where she suffered a lower-body injury. 

With the momentum at an all-time low and LSU  leading, the pressure came down to junior Leanne Wong. The junior was UF’s last chance to pull off the upset. 

A 9.825 would bring home the victory for Florida. A 9.85 would allow the Gators to earn their first 198. A 9.9 would clinch the all-around. 

And Wong earned every one of them, bringing home the 10. 

The Stephen C. O’Connell Center crowd erupted after Wong’s magnificent floor routine earned 10’s all-around. In that moment, her teammates ran towards her, with fiery excitement as the Gators defeated the LSU Tigers to mark an unforgettable upset at home.

“At that moment, I knew the team needed my score,” Wong said. “So I just had to go out and do my routine the way I had been practicing.”

The No. 5 Florida Gators (10-1, 5-1 SEC) upset the No. 2 Louisiana State Tigers (7-3, 4-2 SEC) 198.150-197.950 Friday evening. Florida earned a season-high score of 198.150. 

With the win and the Kentucky Wildcats' loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks Friday, the Gators earned at least a share of their sixth consecutive SEC Title.

“The Gators came out just hungry,” Florida head coach Jenny Rowland said. “[I’m] extremely proud of their presence for each team member and each stepping up all the way through and collectively staying together through 24 routines.”

UF freshman Skylar Draser opened up for the Gators on vault and earned a 9.80 score on her performance as she struggled to stick landing. However, junior Sloane Blakely executed her performance gracefully and scored a 9.90 to keep Florida’s momentum high. 

Freshman Anya Pilgrim shined in her run, sticking an almost-perfect landing to earn the highest score amongst her teammates with a 9.950. Junior Leanne Wong brought the O’Dome to its feet after her stellar clean vault routine to match Pilgrims' score. 

“They’ve been so diligent about controlling emotions at the end of the vault runway on the way down, focusing on their landings,” Rowland said. “I’m extremely proud for that start because it set great momentum.” 

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Blakely opened for Florida on the uneven parallel bars and notched a 9.875, the second-highest score in the apparatus. Senior Ellie Lazzari glistened in her routine as she effortlessly bounced between bars and stuck an almost-perfect landing to earn her a 9.800. 

Pilgrim matched Lazzari’s score with her dazzling performance on bars, but she failed to add to the Gators' score when she made a forward step, causing an uneasy landing. However, Wong brought Florida back into the groove with her graceful landing that earned her a 9.950 to place first in the apparatus. 

Tied with the Tigers at 98.825, Florida moved to its third apparatus of the evening in the balance beam. Draser opened for the Gators on the beam and her well-kept composure earned a 9.90. 

Blakely excelled in her third routine of the evening, glistening on the beam while managing to stay composed during her series of flips to score a 9.85. Pilgrim shined with perfection in her routine as she executed a double straddle and managed to stick her landing. Her routine earned her a 9.975. 

Lazarri struggled in her routine as she wobbled on the beam to earn a 9.725. Junior Victoria Nguyen brought the momentum back after she dazzled in her clean beam routine to score a 9.950. 

LSU junior Aleah Finnegan scored the first 10 of the evening on her floor routine, allowing the Tigers to maintain a slim lead over the Gators. 

However, the O’Dome was saddened when Wong scored a 9.975 after an almost-perfect beam routine. 

Nguyen elegantly paced across the floor in her routine to classical piano, scoring a 9.925 in the start of the apparatus. Freshman Kaylee Bluffstone brought energy to her routine as she incorporated hand movements and stuck a powerful tumble landing to earn her a 9.875. 

Blakley showed out in her floor routine and had the crowd chanting her name by the end of her performance. She earned a 9.975 to place second in the apparatus behind Finnegan. 

Graduate student Payton Richards excelled in the first half of her floor performance until she fell to the floor after her first landing off a tumble. She then had to be carried out of the arena with a lower-body injury. 

Wong finished off the floor apparatus and had the O’Dome electrified when she scored the perfect 10 to pull off the upset win over the No. 2 Tigers.

“I mean, the crowd had a big impact on us more than they know…we would not be the team we are without Gator Nation,” Wong said. 

Next, UF will compete on the road against the Kentucky Wildcats March 3 at 2 p.m. The meet will be broadcast on ESPN+. 

Contact Alyssa Britton-Harr at abritton-harr@alligator.com. Follow her on Twitter @abrittonharr.

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Alyssa Britton-Harr

Alyssa Britton-Harr is a second-year journalism major and a sports reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she enjoys cheering on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and spending time with her friends. 


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