The Gators were riding high as the SEC’s sole undefeated team in conference play when they stepped into the O’Connell Center to face off against Georgia last Friday.
They paid the price for their overweening and walked out with their first SEC loss.
When coach Jenny Rowland’s squad heads to the Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to take on the Razorbacks on Friday, it doesn’t plan to make the same mistake again.
“Confidence is a great thing to have, but don’t get overconfident to where your mind isn’t sharp,” Rowland said. “We kind of left that behind last Friday.”
While Arkansas won’t be the toughest SEC opponent Florida has faced on its schedule—far from it, in fact—the meet will still help decide the conference’s champion, as a win for No. 3 UF (5-2, 5-1 SEC) will guarantee at least share of the crown, with a chance to take sole possession of it depending on other meets.
Here’s what the Gators will be looking out for on their quest for SEC glory:
It hasn’t been a great year for Arkansas.
The No. 20 Razorbacks (1-6, 0-5 SEC) have yet to win a meet at home, with their only victory coming in an away meet over the Arizona Wildcats. On top of that, Florida’s average score across all its meets, 197.579, is better than the Razorbacks’ highest on the season, 196.375. The Gators have eclipsed 197 in every meet so far this season, while the Razorbacks haven’t met that mark all season.
In Arkansas’ loss to LSU last Friday, sophomore Sophia Carter stood out. Her 9.900 on the beam was the highest for the squad on the night, and she placed with a 9.950 on her floor routine.
Freshman Kennedy Hambrick was the only other scorer at or above 9.9 on Friday, netting a 9.900 on the vault during Arkansas’ first rotation.
Heavy is the head
The scenario is clear. With a win, the Gators are guaranteed at least a part of the SEC regular-season title. Should this occur, along with the Auburn Tigers losing their match against Alabama on Friday, Florida would hold sole possession of the SEC championship.
Despite the looming implications nothing has changed for UF as it prepares to hit the road.
“We don’t really talk about it, I guess,” freshman Trinity Thomas said. “We just come in here and do our thing, because all we can control is what we do.”
UF’s “thing” is a sole tenet that Rowland has preached to her team this year: normality.
“Staying normal just means doing exactly what you’ve been practicing in the gym,” Thomas said. “No different out there. Don’t go harder, don’t hold back.”
There’s also the matter of junior Rachel Gowey, who is usually a staple on the team’s beam corps. Gowey rested last week in the meet against Georgia and was replaced by freshman Leah Clapper. When asked about Gowey's status, Roland hinted to the fact that she might not compete.
“Just keeping (Gowey) healthy, moving her along steadily is great,” Rowland said. “I think you’ll see similar lineups to what you saw this past weekend.”
Follow River Wells on Twitter @riverhwells and contact him at [email protected].