By Jim Harvin
The fifth-ranked Florida gymnastics team started slow but finished fast, using a season-high score of 49.625 on its final event – the floor exercise – to claim a 197.850-197.075 dual-meet win Friday over No. 9 Alabama before a crowd of 8,236 in the Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center.
It was UF’s fourth straight win, improving the Gators to 5-1 overall and 3-1 in SEC meets. The Tide, who set a season-high total in the loss, slipped to 3-3, 3-2.
“What an awesome night. Wow,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “I think everybody is on a bit of a high right now.”
Senior Kennedy Baker, who was the final competitor, put the finishing touches on UF’s victory with a perfect 10 on floor to close the meet in her only appearance of the night.
It was the third 10 of her UF career, all on the floor, and gave her one in each of the last three seasons.
“After that first pass, I kind of just could feel it,” Baker said. “I was into it. The rest of it was easy,”
Senior Alex McMurtry was her usual dependable self, winning her first two events (vault and uneven bars) with scores of 9.975 and 9.95, respectively, before settling for being part of a three-way tie for second on the balance beam with teammates Alyssa Baumann and Alicia Boren.
Alabama’s Nickie Guerrero claimed the title with a 9.95, denying UF a sweep of the night’s events.
“I think the Gators had a lot of momentum this week,” McMurtry said. “We just had a strong week of practice and brought it into the meet tonight.”
Junior Alicia Boren captured the all-around title with a season-high mark of 39.60 and also took three seconds for bars (9.925) and floor (9.95) in addition to being part of the three-way UF tie for second on the beam (9.925).
“I thought this was really good,” Boren said. “I’ve really been focusing on being confident in myself. The girls tell me, the coaches tell me, but I definitely struggle with that. It didn’t really come out on vault, but it came out through the rest of the meet. I’ve just got to work on getting it through.”
Baumann, a true freshman, had a solid meet as well, finishing in a three-way tie for second place on the beam and third on the floor with a pair of 9.925s.
All in all, it was an impressive performance as the Gators scored their second-highest mark of the season, only being outdone by the 198.15 they scored in their win over top-ranked Oklahoma two weeks ago.
“We had some struggles this week,” Rowland said. “We had some injuries, little nagging things here or there that we were resting, and we’ve had some illnesses. However, we had new lineups today all the way up to competition time, but this team accepted the challenge and handled that with a lot of grace.”
UF travels to face another arch-rival when the Gators take on No. 13 Georgia in Athens on Friday before returning home for their annual Link to Pink meet in honor of breast cancer awareness. This year’s opponent will be Arkansas at 6:45 p.m. on Feb. 23.