By Jim Harvin
Fifth-ranked Florida used strong efforts on its first three events, including a pair of season-high marks of 49.525 on the vault and uneven bars, to build a solid lead and went on to down Arkansas, 197.725-196.875, Friday before an Exactech Arena crowd of 8,321 in the O’Connell Center.
The Gators (7-1, 5-1), winning their sixth meet in a row, swept the event titles en route to posting their third-highest team score of the season, while the Razorbacks slipped to 2-8 overall and 2-5 in SEC action.
But Link to Pink night ended on a sour note for UF when the last competitor of the night, senior All-American Kennedy Baker, suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon near the end of her floor routine. She was carried off the floor exercise mat by UF medical staff. Baker will have surgery next week to repair the season-ending injury.
“Overall this team did a fantastic job tonight,” coach Jenny Rowland said. “Before we started the competition, our Gator of the day was Kennedy, and she talked about that feeling with this team. She has their back and they have her back.
“Really, that’s the core of my team this year of these athletes. They did a spectacular job of building off of each other all the way through from beginning to end tonight, performance after performance. And yet the little details we’ve been working on in the gym definitely carried over from routine to routine. So that was really awesome to see from stuck landings to great performances.”
Senior Alex McMurtry shared the vault title with fellow senior Rachel Slocum at 9.95 and then shared the uneven bars crown with sophomore Rachel Gowey, with both getting a 9.925.
Gowey and McMurtry then shared the balance beam title, each with a 9.95, before junior Alicia Boren brought home the floor title with a 9.95 that also netted her the fourth straight all-around title and fifth of the season with a 39.525.
She edged McMurtry, who closed with a sub-par 9.65 on floor to finish second with a 39.475.
“I thought I had a very good night,” Boren said. “I definitely started not was well as I could have and wanted to on vault, but Jenny was just telling me to breathe and to get one thing at a time. I did it on bars and then I did a better job of doing it on beam, and then I got to floor and closed it out.”
Gowey was pleased with her performance.
“I think I went into the night with confidence in myself knowing that I had a really good week in the gym,” she said. “I was just working on the details, the dismounts, the sticks, the presentations of my routine. I think going out tonight I had a lot more confidence in myself knowing that we’re home and we have Gator Nation behind me. It was really cool.”
Slocum also had a solid night, sharing the vault title with McMurtry before adding a third-place finish on floor with a 9.90.
“Starting on vault is always a great start for us, so I just high-fived everybody in front of me,” Slocum said. “I just went out there and did my job which is what I’m supposed to do, so that was really nice. And then rounding out on floor felt really nice. Just for me in general it was great. Everybody’s energy was really high, so that definitely helped me.”
Next up, the Gators travel to face SEC foe Missouri Friday at 8 p.m. before returning home to host Big Eight power Nebraska March 9 in their final regular-season home meet.