By Jim Harvin
The Florida gymnastics team has one more step to take before heading to the 2018 NCAA Championships at the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis on April 20-21.
First, the Gators need to qualify with a Top 2 team finish at the University Park Regional hosted by Penn State today at 4 p.m. It is one of six regionals nationwide.
“This team has continued to build and get better in the gym and get better on the competition floor, and that’s what I expect to see this weekend as well,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “It’s another competition, just going out there and doing what they know how to do.”
No. 5 Florida and No. 8 Washington, the top two seeds, are the teams in this year’s regional in Penn State’s Rec Hall that were among the 2017 NCAA Championships’ field.
The other four squads are looking to return to NCAA Championship action. They are No. 17 Arizona State (1999 last appearance), New Hampshire (1994), host Penn State (2014) and West Virginia (2000).
UF is seeking its 36th NCAA Championship appearance in 37 years.
“We’re feeling really good,” junior Alicia Boren said. “We’re just putting in the work and paying attention to the little details that we need to and just getting ready to have one more meet before the big one.”
The Gators are led by senior Alex McMurtry, the 2018 SEC Event Specialist and SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She is the second person in SEC history to claim gymnast of the year and scholar-athlete honors in the same season and the first to do it twice (2017 SEC Gymnast and Scholar-Athlete).
In addition, McMurtry, who picked up three first-team NACGC All-America honors (vault, bars and beam), is one of five Gators to be named an NACGC All-American.
She is joined by Boren, who earned a trio of second-team honors (all-around, beam and floor), as well as senior Rachel Slocum (vault), sophomore Rachel Gowey (beam) and freshman Alyssa Baumann (beam), each of whom earned second-team kudos.
UF’s resiliency will be front and center, as the Gators are coming off a third-place finish at the 2018 SEC Championships, having to count a fall on the floor exercise en route to placing behind champion LSU and runner-up Alabama.
“Going into regionals, we are very motivated, especially after the performance that we gave at SECs,” Gowey said. “We gave it our all, but we just had a few mistakes that we couldn’t help. We’ve worked on all the small details – the handstands, the sticks and the good form.”
Rowland believes UF will deliver.
“I have every ounce of confidence in this team,” she said. “They’ve really had some highs and lows this year, and the qualities that this team has and their ability to help each other when they know their needs have to be met without having to say anything really says a lot.
“With their resilience, their confidence, and their ability to continue to move forward, I have every ounce of belief and confidence that they will rise, they will accept the challenge and do what they need to do. We look forward to moving on to the next step.”
What: NCAA University Park Regional. The top two teams and the top two all-around competitors (who are not on an advancing team) from each of the nation’s six region sites advances to the NCAA Championships, set for April 20-21 at the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, Mo
When: 4 p.m. today
Where: Penn State’s Rec Hall]
Who: No. 5 Florida, No. 8 Washington, No. 17 Arizona State, New Hampshire, Penn State and West Virginia.