The air in the O’Connell Center was stale with the shock of a crowd of 8,321. No one spoke as all eyes in the arena focused on senior Kennedy Baker, who sat clutching her foot following a fall during her floor routine.
The injury, a torn Achilles, happened at the end of Florida's sixth straight win over Arkansas 197.725-196.875 in the annual Link to Pink event Friday night. During the awards ceremony, the No. 5 Gators (7-1, 5-1 SEC) sat with their faces straight ahead, each gymnast lost in quiet sadness and their individual thoughts for their teammate.
The Florida gymnastics team is finding its groove, having won its previous five meets by an average of 0.480 points.
“Our Gator of the day was Kennedy, and she talked about family with this team,” coach Jenny Rowland said. “She has their back and they have her back.”
The meet was dominated by senior Alex McMurtry and sophomore Rachel Gowey, who tied for first together in both bars and beam. McMurtry also worked her way to the top of the vault event to tie senior Rachel Slocum with a score of 9.950.
“Really that’s the core of my team this year,” Rowland said. “They did a spectacular job of building off of each other all the way through from beginning to end tonight.”
Junior Alicia Boren started off the night with a season low of 9.775 on vault. She showed her versatility over No. 11 Arkansas (2-8, 2-5 SEC) as the meet continued, placing first on floor with a score equivalent to her collegiate best of 9.950.
“I definitely started not as well as I could have and wanted to on vault,” Boren said. “Jenny was like ‘breathe, take it one thing at a time and put a smile on your face.’”
Boren ended the night at first place in the all-around with a score of 39.525. This marked her fifth first-place finish in the all-around and fourth consecutive of the season. Both victories on the night meant a little more to her, as she was able to perform for her aunt, Kathy, who is a cancer survivor.
“I was happy that she was here,” Boren said. “More than happy, ecstatic.”
In a matchup that ended overshadowed with the injury of a teammate, Florida was still able to find success in taking a win in each event. The team also posted season highs on vault and bars, and will use these achievements as they head on the road again to face Nebraska on March 9.
“Overall this team did a fantastic job tonight,” Rowland said. “The little details we’ve been working on in the gym definitely carried over from routine to routine.”