Perennial power Florida opens gymnastics season

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University of Florida head coach Jenny Rowland reacts after a performance on the beam by Alex McMurtry, who scored a perfect 10 on beam, during a meet against Oklahoma at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

By Jim Harvin, Correspondent

The 2019 Florida gymnastics team makes its official debut this evening when the third-ranked Gators take on Southeastern Conference foe Missouri at 6:45 p.m. in the Exactech Arena.

“It’s a young team,” fourth-year UF head coach Jenny Rowland said. “There’s going to be a lot of ‘new’ out on the competition floor, and there’s still a lot to learn.”

Rowland, who came to UF from Auburn, led the Gators to a fourth-place NCAA finish in 2016 and followed that with back-to-back third-place finishes in 2017 and 2018.

She replaced former coach Rhonda Faehn, who joined the U. S. Olympic program after winning three straight NCAA titles from 2013-15 to cap her 13-year UF career.

Today will be the first of nine regular-season dual meets, including seven against the SEC.

Also on the slate is a road test at Oklahoma, which won the 2016 and 2017 NCAA titles before being edged by UCLA last year by a mere .0375, as well as a season-ending home meet with Penn State.

“There are definitely a lot of emotions going into this year as a whole and definitely this first meet,” senior and 14-time All-American Alicia Boren said. “I’m really excited to be with this group of girls. They’re all awesome, they have amazing personalities, and they all work so hard.

“My confidence has grown with the help of the coaches as well, and my gymnastics has grown, too, which is something I’ve really worked on.”

Boren and classmate Amanda Cheney are the lone seniors on UF’s 15-member roster.

They are joined by juniors Rachel Gowey, Amelia Hundley, Maegan Chant and Sierra Alexander; sophomores Alyssa Baumann, Megan Skaggs and Jazmyn Foberg; and freshmen Savannah Schoenherr, Trinity Thomas, Sydney Johnson-Scharpf, Nya Reed, Leah Clapper and Halley Taylor.

UF’s freshman class is ranked No. 1 in the nation.

“The team is so excited to get back out there,” said Gowey, a three-time All-America. “It’s been a long preseason. We’ve put in so much hard work, effort and training into this first meet, so everyone is really excited to get out there.

“The nerves are kind of piling up, but we’ve definitely been working on it along with the confidence and calmness in the gym. When we go out there, I know it will be just like we practiced.”

The Gators are anxious to make their debut before what is expected to be a large and enthusiastic crowd.

“I’m super-excited,” Schoenherr said. “Obviously the crowd is a big change. I’ve never competed in front of that many people, so it’s going to be a huge difference for me. I’ve also never been on TV before for gymnastics, so I think that will be a lot of fun, too.”

Joining Rowland again are assistant coaches Adrian Burde (13th season) and Owen Field (fourth season), as well as volunteer coach Jeremy Miranda (12th season).

The SEC Championships will be held in New Orleans on March 23, with the NCAA Regionals set for April 4-6 at four predetermined sites — Ann Arbor, Mich.; Athens, Ga.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Corvallis, Ore. The NCAA Championships are set for Fort Worth, Texas April 19-20.

“We’ve gotten to the point that this team is prepared gymnastically,” Rowland noted. “We’ve done all that we can in the gym to prepare them for what’s about to happen, but you really don’t know what to expect until you get out there.

“That’s the next step in the process. We’re ready to get out on the competition floor and work out some kinks, some butterflies, some anxiety and some nerves and just go out there and have a good time.”

Note: After an uneven bars fall in Thursday’s training, All-American Alyssa Baumann was transported to Shands Hospital for a precautionary evaluation, per UF sports information. Baumann is sore but otherwise in good spirits. She is expected to make a full recovery, but will not compete in Friday’s meet. The timetable for her return is not yet determined.


Today

What: SEC gymnastics

Who: No. 11 Missouri vs. No. 3 Florida

When: 6:45 p.m.

Where: Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center

TV: SEC Network

Tickets: Visit FloridaGators.com

Getting to the arena:

  • Season parking holders can enter the O’Connell Center lot off Lemerand Drive OR SW 2nd Avenue.
  • Public parking is available in the O’Connell Center parking garage on first-come basis. Those wishing to park in the garage must enter lot off SW 2nd Avenue.
  • Public parking is also available in the north end of Percy Beard Track (enter off SW 2nd Avenue), tennis stadium lot or fraternity row.
  • A complimentary parking shuttle transports fans from Commuter Lot Garage IX to the O’Connell Center. For more information, visit FloridaGators.com.

Parking map for Gator Gymnastics

  • NEW this season: Use the Waze app to provide the best route to Garage IX.