Coach Jenny Rowland wasn’t expecting to be doused with confetti, once “We are the Champions” started blaring on the loudspeaker.
“It was a great surprise,” Rowland said. “I’m very grateful it was confetti and not Gatorade.”
Her confetti shower came after Florida clinched its second-consecutive SEC regular season title in its 198.050-197.450 win over Alabama Friday night at the O’Connell Center.
There was plenty to celebrate in the O’Dome Friday night. UF (8-0, 6-0 SEC) is off to its best start since the 2007 season. Its score of 198.050 was its second-best this season for the team, just behind its performance against LSU on Jan. 24 (198.375). It is the fourth-highest score of any team in the nation this season.
“I can’t say enough about the dedication and commitment of this team,” Rowland said. “Everything they’ve been through, how they’ve carried themselves, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Florida came out a little slow on the vault, with one exception:
With Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” playing, the senior, playing in her second-to-last home meet, racked up a new career-high (9.95) to lead the scoring for UF.
“Every single time I run down the vault runway that’s all I think about,” Alexander said. “Making the team proud.”
On the bars, the Gators had their lowest rotation score of the night (49.35). Even with that low score, they still had two gymnasts score a 9.90 – Amelia Hundley and Savannah Schoenherr. Their lead slightly increased heading to the beam, despite Alabama’s Lexi Graber scoring a 9.975 on the vault.
Beam has been Florida’s strong suit so far this season. It leads the nation in average beam scores this season and has finished with a 49.5 or higher in its last four meets.
However, it got off to a rocky start.
Freshman Payton Richards led off with a 9.90, but sophomore Sydney Johnson-Scharpf lost her balance a few times and scored a 9.30.
Normally, that would rattle a team, especially that early on in a rotation.
But the 2020 Florida Gators are not a normal team.
Every gymnast after Johnson-Scharpf topped with a 9.90 or higher. Sophomore Leah Clapper anchored beam and won the beam title (9.975). Overall, UF finished with a beam score of 49.675, tying its season-best score against LSU.
“Anyone going up in that six spot after a fall earlier (faces a struggle),” senior Amelia Hundley said. “But she (Clapper) really rose to the pressure and she works so hard earning her spot.”
By the time Florida went to the floor, the championship was already in sight since the lead grew substantially in the third rotation.
The team, though, didn’t relent.
Just like on beam, every gymnast scored a 9.90.
One of those athletes was Johnson-Scharpf, who bounced back from her beam lapse to score a 9.90.
“I wanted to see her reset and move forward and she did,” Rowland said.
By the time junior Alyssa Baumann went for the final exercise of the night, the meet had basically been clinched.
But just like the rest of her teammates, her finale was anything but anticlimactic.
She equaled her career-high (9.975) and gave the orange and blue one last thing to celebrate.
“I had no idea we clinched,” Baumann said. “I usually walk out before my routine and not look at the scores.”
UF still has another three opponents the rest of the season, including one SEC team — Georgia on Friday night in Athens, Georgia.
This title comes after last season’s disappointing finish in which the team missed the Super Six for the first time since 2012.
For Rowland, it just makes this season and tonight sweeter.
“This team really has taken a situation that I don’t wish upon anybody leading up to that point,” she said. “But if it didn’t happen, you never know what this season could have been.”
Follow Noah on Twitter @Noah_ram1 and contact him at [email protected].