There was one less smile at the Gators gymnastics practice gym Wednesday.
As the team warmed up, there wasn’t the usual sound of upbeat pop music. Instead, the chords of AC/DC's “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” pounded throughout the gym, as if the heavy beat could bring the Gators out of the nightmare that was the absence of senior Kennedy Baker. Baker performed her last floor routine for Florida on Feb. 23 against Arkansas, leaving the team’s last home SEC meet with a torn Achilles tendon.
The air in the O’Connell Center was stale with the shock of a crowd of 8,321. No one spoke a…
“It took the whole audience by surprise,” sophomore Rachel Gowey said. “She definitely gives us confidence in ourselves. Her personality will be missed but we know she’ll be there during postseason.”
Following her surgery Monday, Baker will continue to fulfill her role as cheerleader for the team, only this time it will be from the sidelines. At first, the team struggled with the reality that it would no longer be performing with a friend.
“We met on Sunday and Alex (McMurtry) made a very good point,” freshman Megan Skaggs said. “We can't replace Ken, but we can replace her scores.”
This is an encouraging idea for the team, which will now rely on the depth of its roster to make up for the loss of the 11-time All-American. Florida has worked on interchanging its lineup throughout the regular season in preparation for a situation like this. Coach Jenny Rowland said she feels more than prepared as the team takes on Missouri, its final SEC opponent of the regular season.
“Very thankful for the depth that we do have this year,” Rowland said. “It's not a shock to anybody, we’re really not putting anybody brand new in. It should be pretty seamless.”
This shouldn’t be too difficult for the No. 5 Gators (7-1, 5-1 SEC), who beat Mizzou in both their matchups during the regular season and SEC Championships last year. UF heads into the meet with a six-game winning streak and with Skaggs’ SEC Freshman of the Week honor.
Though the sting of Baker’s injury is still fresh in the minds of the Gators, Rowland has complete faith in her team’s ability to continue on as a single unit when it takes on the No. 20 Tigers (5-6, 1-5 SEC) at 7:45 in the Hearnes Center in Columbia.
“The girls came in a little quiet on Sunday, however, one of our great team leaders stepped up and said a few words to the team that brought everybody back together mentally,” Rowland said. “(We’re) ready to finish off a strong season.”