Many gymnastics teams would consider a top-10 matchup a highlight of its competitive schedule. For the Florida Gators, it’s just another Friday.
UF is set to embark on its third top-10 matchup in six meets when it heads to Tuscaloosa to take on the No. 9 Alabama Crimson Tide at the Coleman Coliseum on Friday. The Gators will don their pink leotards for the second-straight meet as Alabama hosts its “Power of Pink” event.
The home team has taken the victory in every Florida and Alabama clash since 2003, and here’s what the Gators have been looking out for and working on in hopes to break that streak.
Turning the Tide
Alabama (8-2, 3-1 SEC) is coming off a 196.700-195.800 victory over the No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks, and that meet’s star gymnasts hope to make an impact when they host the Gators.
The standout was Lexi Graber, the team’s all-arounder. She won the all-around with a 39.375, which included a 9.950 on the vault and a 9.900 on the balance beam. Graber got an SEC All-Freshman nod last year, and she’ll look to continue the momentum of her high scores on the vault and beam come Friday. Another gymnast to watch is freshman Emily Gaskins, who netted a 9.925 on the uneven bars.
Despite the Crimson Tide’s record and No. 9 status, it may quickly find themselves in trouble against the No. 2 Gators. Alabama has yet to break past 197 in any of its meets so far, a feat that UF has accomplished in all of its own. On top of that, the Crimson Tide or more renowned as road warriors this year, as it's undefeated on the road but have lost in two of its three home meets so far.
If Alabama hopes to beat Florida, it’ll need to find a way to transcend the 196 threshold it’s been stuck in, and fast.
Riding the wave
The Gators (4-1, 4-0 SEC) have bested every SEC team they’ve faced so far, and they aren’t keen on ending that streak any time soon.
While Alabama’s lower scores put them at a disadvantage against the Gators, UF is still holding stock in the history between the two squads.
“The tradition and the history of excellence at Alabama is second to none,” coach Jenny Rowland said. “We gotta go in with our A-game if we want to be competitive.”
The meet will also mark the second week in a row that freshman Savannah Schoenherr will be on the floor unit. Schoenherr’s 9.850 on her floor routine last week contributed to the team’s highest floor score this year, and she’ll look to keep up the success in Tuscaloosa.
“Floor is special, I guess, because you kinda get to show your personality throughout your routine,” she said. “Looking up and dancing to the crowd and seeing everyone dance along with you and do the Gator chomp with you is a really cool experience.”
While the Gators are used to large crowds at the O’Connell Center, Alabama’s home-meet advantage is notorious among SEC teams. The Crimson Tide drew an impressive 13,823 people at its last meet against LSU, which is a better showing than any home meet at UF this year.
The Gators, however, aren’t fazed. In fact, they plan to use it to their advantage.
“I think we actually do better when we’re in front of a big crowd like that,” sophomore Alyssa Baumann said. “We just use the energy whether it’s for us or not and just roll with it.”
Follow River Wells on Twitter @riverhwells and contact him at [email protected].