Often sought and rarely achieved, perfection and the pursuit of itt is the ultimate goal for any sports team that competes at a rate where it’s possible. And sitting at 10-0 after a March 7 meet against Penn State Nittany Lions, the Gators gymnastics team was well on its way before the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic before the close of the regular season.
But what if it wasn’t?
Could the Gators have truly reached the ultimate achievement? Could they have marched through SECs, blasted through NCAA Regionals and semis and emerge as the nation’s best squad in the finals?
The answer lies in some of the strongest young talent the Gators have had in years — and a certain sophomore from York, Pennsylvania.
UF was led by head coach Jenny Rowland, who, after the season had been canceled, netted both the SEC and WCGA Coach of the Year awards. Rowland’s recruiting and coaching efforts had hit peak production in 2020, as junior Alyssa Baumann was named to the WCGA first-team All-American for the floor and second-team for the beam while senior Rachel Gowey and sophomore Savannah Schoenherr were named first-team on the beam and second-team on the uneven bars, respectively.
And then there was Trinity Thomas.
To call Thomas dominant is an understatement. She was named a first-team All-American in every event except for the vault, where she made second-team. She was the SEC Gymnast of the Year, won 28 events across the season, set the nation’s highest all-around score against Georgia (39.825), earned four 10s on the year, won SEC Gymnast of the Week eight times and is a finalist for the Honda Award, given to the nation’s best collegiate gymnast.
With Rowland at the helm and Thomas on cruise control, Florida would almost certainly defeat its final regular-season opponent in unranked 6-10 Texas Woman’s University.
After that, the Gators would head to the SEC Championship. The closest any SEC team got to beating the Gators was both Alabama and LSU at 0.6 points behind Florida in its respective matches. While it isn’t entirely out of the question that one of the two could beat them, both teams lost at least two matches across their regular seasons, and it would be more likely than not that UF’s hot streak would continue.
With their likely SEC victory out of the way, the Gators would perhaps learn from their mistakes after not making the finals last season and overcome the divisional and semifinal rounds of NCAAs. Once it got to the finals, it would almost certainly come face to face with its longtime rival.
The top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners were also undefeated at the end of 2020, and they had a better meet-high and average score than Florida did. OU had its own Trinity Thomas in senior Maggie Nichols, another Honda Award Finalist who netted Big 12 Gymnast of the Year and ranked No. 1 in all-around at the season’s end.
UF had already beat a potential finalist in Denver earlier in the year, but could it beat Oklahoma?
It would be more likely than not that the Sooners would topple the mighty Gators. UF has beaten them before, though, but if Rowland and her squad managed to steal a victory in Fort Worth, Texas, Florida would complete what would have been its best season in program history. If not, it would still be Rowland’s best effort as head coach and continue the reign of terror that the two programs have held over the women’s gymnastics world.
Perfection is far from easy. But for the Florida Gators, it was far from a pipe dream.
Follow River on Twitter @riverhwells and contact him at [email protected]