Rachel Gowey

Rachel Gowey

This has been a meet over a year in the making.

It has been in the making since Jan. 18, 2019.

On that day last year, the Florida gymnastics team went into Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and got that monkey, or “Tiger,” off its back and shocked LSU. It was its first win over the Tigers since 2014 and it ended their 35-meet home win streak.

Now, tonight, we get the rematch.

The Gators will host the Tigers on Friday night in their biggest SEC meet of the season. It will be held at the O’Connell Center and begins at 7:15 p.m.

“It is probably our most anticipated meet of the season and LSU feels the same,” junior Megan Skaggs said.

This meet looks to be another chapter in this rivalry involving two of the most successful programs in the country. Florida and LSU have made three of the last four Super Sixes. The meet on Friday will be the 24th-consecutive time both teams bring a top-10 ranking.

These two teams have played each other incredibly close. Of their 22 meetings since 2013, 17 have been decided by less than half a point.

“It’s been a very close rivalry over the last couple years,” coach Jenny Rowland said. “It’s a really easy week for us to get up for and practices have been going great this week.”

The rest of the country also understands how important this meet is. It will be televised on ESPN2, and is the only regular-season meet the Gators have this season on national TV.

“It is really not something we think about,” Skaggs said. “When we are out there, we are in our zone.”

No. 2 Florida will be looking to bounce back from a less-than-stellar performance last week in a win over No. 19 Missouri in Columbia. Despite the 196.85-195.60 win, UF (2-0) really didn’t get it going until the third rotation.

“It was a situation last week we are not used to,” Rowland said. “They had an ice storm come through and it was a small crowd so the energy level was not up, and we just started a little too tight.”

Although the score may have been lower than expected, there were still some positives to take away from the meet.

Sophomore Nya Reed equaled her career-high of 9.875 to win the vault title for the second-straight week, and sophomore Trinity Thomas won her second beam (9.925) and floor (9.95) title in a row.

UF’s depth continues to be arguably the most impressive tool it has. Coach Rowland is able to roll out different lineups in each event every week and see the same topflight results.

“There is definitely a lot more depth this year than we’ve had in the past,” junior Alyssa Baumann said. “I think it really pushes the team more, because we are competing for lineup spots each meet.”

For example, Baumann played on the vault two weeks ago against Arkansas but was replaced by Skaggs last week, who then proceeded to notch the second-highest score on the team (9.800).

No. 8 LSU comes to Gainesville with a 3-0 record. It has already faced SEC foes, No. 8 Georgia and No. 20 Auburn. Freshman Kiya Johnson won the SEC Freshman of the week for her performance against Auburn, scoring a 39.60 in the all-around category. The Tigers are coming off a second-place finish at last year’s NCAA Championships, their best finish in school history.

“This team really thrives on being able to compete and show off in front of Gator nation and having LSU on top of that really just amplifies everything,” Rowland said. “That has led to focus during practice and just trying to get better each and every day.”

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