By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
The third-ranked Florida gymnastics team started slow Friday, but then found its stride en route to a 197.675-196.650 dual-meet win over No. 17 Kentucky.
With the win before an Exactech Arena crowd of 8,615, the 10th-largest in program history, the Gators (3-0, 3-0 SEC) remained perfect both overall and in Southeastern Conference action while the Wildcats slipped to 3-3, 1-1.
In addition, UF’s winning score was its highest of the season as well as the fourth-highest overall mark, while Kentucky also set a season-high.
“There were no red flags, which is a great thing,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “We’re ready to get back in the gym and get back to the grind. One day at a time, we’re just trying to improve again the little details.
“It’s a really awesome feeling coming in meet after meet after meet so calm, so cool and just having a lot of confidence in this team that they’re going to go up and be great. The question is how great they’re going to be that night, and I think that’s a great start.”
A season-low score of 49.050 on the vault left the Gators .175 behind the Wildcats’ 49.225 on their first event, the uneven bars, but Florida wasted no time in making up the deficit.
UF recorded a school-record 49.725 on the uneven bars to take a 98.775-98.300 lead after two events, then added another tenth to their lead on the balance beam before closing the meet out in style with a season-high 49.550 on the floor exercise.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, finished with a 49.100 on the beam.
The star of the night for the Gators was true freshman Trinity Thomas.
“I thought the crowd was on fire,” Thomas said.
When asked to elaborate on Thomas’ performance, Rowland did not hesitate.
“It was stunning,” she said. “I see her on a daily basis and there’s still a little edge, a little bit of nerves going on. But given that, I don’t think anybody else would ever know. She is settling into her own skin. She is feeling a lot more comfortable in learning how to work with the team and feeding off of it. Really, the thing that I enjoy the most is seeing how much fun she has.”
After finishing a team-best second in the vault to Kentucky’s Katie Stuart (9.900) with a 9.875, Thomas picked up the pace with a near-perfect 9.975 on the bars to edge a trio of fellow Gators – Alicia Boren, Amelia Hundley and Megan Skaggs – all of whom recorded 9.95s to share second.
Thomas followed that up with a 9.925 to win the balance beam, just edging Hundley’s runner-up 9.90, then closed out her career-best performance by sharing the floor exercise title with teammate Alicia Boren and Kentucky’s Mollie Korth – all with 9.925s.
Thomas finished with a career-high score of 39.700 to win her first all-around title, with Boren (39.525) second and Kentucky’s Alex Hyland and Korth tying for third with matching scores of 39.350.
“I think the crowd was really loud and energetic, and I think we kind of build off of that,” Hundley said. “If you need that energy, take it, but if you want to block it out and calm down, that’s what you need to do.”
Next up, the Gators travel to face top-ranked Oklahoma in Norman at 7:45 p.m (ET) Friday.
The Sooners, the 2016 and 2017 NCAA champions, were denied a three-peat last season by UCLA, which rallied for a .0375 victory in their last event to claim the 2018 national title. Oklahoma was forced to settle for a runner-up finish, with UF placing third.