Rested Gator gymnasts go for SEC double

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Florida coach Jenny Rowland congratulates gymnast Megan Skaggs at an earlier meet this season. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun/File]

By Jim Harvin, Correspondent

Today’s 2019 Southeastern Conference Gymnastics Championships will have some Cajun flavor.

The Smoothie King Arena in New Orleans will be the eighth venue to play host to the SEC Championships since the event moved to neutral sites in 2001.

“SECs is going to be lit,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “I’m looking forward to a great weekend. It’s something that this team always looks forward to in the middle of the season where it’s really hard to just go in with a really mundane attitude.”

The last SEC Championships held at a school site came in 2000 in Gainesville. Every league championship since has been held at a neutral site. This also is the 13th consecutive year the league championships will be contested on podium.

“Lineups will be very similar to our last home competition,” Rowland noted. “They’ll be a few tweaks here and there, but for the most part, we foresee it being similar.

“We had switched things up a little bit, and the athletes were comfortable in their positions. They performed well, so we’re going to go with that.”

The Gators are pumped about potentially sweeping this year’s SEC hardware.

“It’s definitely exciting. Our whole team, we’ve come together and we’ve really been looking forward to this meet for two weeks,” junior and four-time All-American Amelia Hundley said. “We went back and analyzed what we were doing in the past meets, what we liked about it and what we can improve on. These last two weeks the training has been good, the energy has been good, and we’re all just really excited.”

Today’s action will be split into two sessions.

The lower four seeds – No. 10 Alabama, Auburn, Missouri and Arkansas – will take part in Session I beginning at 4 p.m.

The four higher seeds – No. 3 LSU, No. 4 Florida, No. 8 Georgia and No. 9 Kentucky – will be in Session II starting at 8 p.m.

Scores from the two sessions combine to determine the team and event champions.

Florida matched its high score of 198.025 to close out the regular-season with a home win over No. 25 Penn State on March 8.

The crowd in attendance of 6,805 gave UF a season average of 8,333 per meet, resetting the school record for the second consecutive year and for third time in last four seasons.

“Everyone is feeling great,” freshman standout Trinity Thomas said. “Last time out in the O-Dome was amazing. You could just see how much heart and passion was out there and we had so much fun.”

The Gators took a brief break last week to re-energize and let their bodies recover.

Now, their focus is on adding the SEC title to the regular-season championship they already captured.

“It was really nice,” said sophomore Megan Skaggs, a member of the 2018 SEC All-Freshman Team. “We all needed a little recovery because the season is long, but we’ve been able to work on the little details in the gym and really just refine our skills and our routines for SECs. We’re feeling super-energized and ready to go.”

As the No. 2 seed (LSU is No. 1), UF will begin on the uneven bars and finish on the vault.

In related news, senior Alicia Boren, a 14-time All-American heading into the postseason, is one of six finalists announced for the 2019 American Athletic Inc. Award.

The AAI honor is given annually to the top senior student-athlete in NCAA Division I women’s gymnastics.


Today

What: SEC Gymnastics Championships

When: Florida competes in Session II (ESPN2 at 8 p.m.), with LSU, Georgia and Kentucky. Session I (SEC Network at 4 p.m.) has Alabama, Auburn, Missouri and Arkansas.

Where: Smoothie King Center in New Orleans