For Florida, one of the top gymnastic teams in the nation, an eighth-place ranking is unusual.
It came down to the little things in the final vault rotation.
The Gators' National Qualifying Score (NQS) for the floor is third in the country. They’re third on the uneven bars. Third on the balance beam.
For the vault, their NQS score sits at No. 8, and the large discrepancy between that event and the Gators’ other three is what caused them to miss out on first place at the SEC Championships in New Orleans on Saturday.
It’s an event that has plagued them since their first meet of the regular season against Missouri. After Florida’s loss against No. 1 Oklahoma in early February, freshman Trinity Thomas specifically keyed the team’s vault landings as an area of improvement.
“I think we’re lacking landings on vault,” Thomas said in a release after that meet. “Once we get those down, watch out.”
Saturday showed that it still hasn’t, and it was in that moment of weakness that LSU sealed Florida’s fate during its last rotation on the floor.
The Gators were always either the first or second to participate on the vault during the regular season. Now, they’ll head into the NCAA Championships where having to do a lackluster event to close can very well be the Achilles' heel it was for them on Saturday.
The other teams competing for the top spot, such as Oklahoma, UCLA and LSU, don’t have bad events. The Sooners and the Bruins are either No. 1 or No. 2 in NQS for every event, and the Tigers are No. 4 in every rotation. If Florida continues to struggle with its vault landings, it could be quickly swallowed up among the field of elite teams at the NCAA Championships next month.
That isn’t to say there hasn’t been improvement, even if it’s been minute. Thomas, in particular, has stepped up her game on the vault. In the Gators’ last two meets, she’s scored a 9.950 on her vault routines, cementing her status as the team’s most valuable gymnast in the all-around position.
But no other UF gymnast hit above the 9.9 mark on the vault on Saturday, and it was in a time where Florida desperately needed to cling on to the small lead it held for the first three rotations. The Gators were forced to keep a 9.775 from sophomore Megan Skaggs after freshman Savannah Schoenherr’s routine of 9.750 became the drop score.
Perhaps a lineup change is the answer. Maybe Florida just needs to practice on the vault more vigorously, but one thing is certain: UF has 11 days until it heads to Fort Worth, Texas, for its first competition at the NCAA Championships. If it doesn’t have its vault problem fixed by then, it could be headed home far earlier than it would like to.
Follow River Wells on Twitter @riverhwells and contact him at [email protected].