By Jim Harvin
The No. 5 Florida gymnastics team returns to the Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center to host No. 1 Oklahoma at 6:45 p.m. today, marking UF’s second straight home meet against the nation’s top-ranked team.
Two weeks ago, then-No. 7 Florida hosted Southeastern Conference rival and then-No. 1 LSU in its home opener and fell short by a mere .125 in front of a sellout crowd of 9,661.
Following a win at No. 6 Kentucky last Friday, UF (2-1, 1-1 SEC) is hoping for a better result against the Sooners (3-0, 1-0 Big 12) in a matchup of the two teams that have won the last five NCAA team titles (Florida 2013, 2014, 2015; Oklahoma 2014, 2016, 2017).
This marks just the fifth time the Gators have faced multiple No. 1 teams in a season.
“It’s always great to be back home, and who can say that they competed in back-to-back home meets against the No. 1 team?” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s an exciting time for the Gators. We’re always up for the challenge, and this weekend is not going to be any different.
“It’s very important throughout this process, this marathon of a season, to let all of our athletes compete at some point in time to find out what our best lineup is and who works best in what spot.”
Sophomore Rachel Gowey has recorded three consecutive wins on the balance beam, highlighted by a personal-best 9.95 against LSU, and won two event titles (uneven bars) in one night for the first time against Kentucky.
“Each meet we’ve progressed a little more, and definitely as a team we’re just so close-knit,” Gowey said. “You can see us on the sidelines during each person’s event; we’re holding each other just wanting them to do the best that they can and get the best score possible.”
Senior Alex McMurtry, the defending NCAA all-around champion, has competed in every event but the floor exercise thus far, posting three straight 9.90s on vault, two team-high 9.925s on uneven bars as well as a 9.90 and a 9.85 on beam.
Junior Alicia Boren has posted a first and two seconds in the all-around, led by a team-high 39.575 in the season opener, and she and senior Kennedy Baker, slowed by injuries last season, have recorded team-high marks of 9.925 on the floor exercise.
In addition, senior Rachel Slocum had a team-high 9.925 in winning the vault last week.
“This is definitely the best I’ve felt in my four years in college,” Baker said. “I’m in my best shape and this is the best team I’ve been on, hands down. We’re all motivated, we all get along, and our bond is irreplaceable. I think this team is special.”
This is the fourth of 10 regular-season meets, with the SEC Championships March 24 in St. Louis.
The NCAA Regionals are April 7 at sites to be determined, with the NCAA Semifinals and Super Six Team Final slated for April 20-21, also in St. Louis.
“Lineups are still going to change a little bit here and there,” Rowland said. “We’re solidifying a few spots, but overall we still have the availability and we have the time to still play around with lineups.”
Who: No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Florida
When: 6:45 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center
TV: The meet airs tape-delayed on the SEC Network