By Jim Harvin
The 2018 Southeastern Conference Gymnastics Championships will be held today at the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, the same site as next month’s NCAA Championships.
This is the farthest north location in the 38-year history of the event.
“We were fortunate enough to have a week off last week, which is rare for us,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “However, for this season and this team, it actually came at a great time. Last week was a great opportunity for us to have a little bit of mental downtime and a little bit of physical downtime for a few days and then ramp back up.
“With that being said, the girls have been super-energized and are really excited to go this week. They’ve just been laser-focused and excited about competing up on podium, competing for each other, competing for Florida, and just having a good time.”
Teams seeded No. 5-8 (based on March 19 regional qualifying scores) compete in the opening session at 3 p.m., followed by seeds No. 1-4 at 7 p.m. Scores from the two sessions will be combined to determine the team and event champions.
“We’d been going for 10 weeks straight, so to have a week off was nice on our bodies,” sophomore All-American Amelia Hundley said. “We could kind of like turn the page and move forward. The coaches always tell us it’s like a brand new start, and I think we’re going to do really well with that.
“We don’t really go with like ‘We should win this,’ but obviously that’s the end goal for everyone.”
Defending SEC champion and No. 2 LSU joins 2016 SEC champ and No. 5 Florida, No. 6 Alabama and No. 9 Kentucky in the evening session, which will air live on ESPN2. As the second seed, UF’s rotation order will be bars-beam-floor-vault.
The opening session, which will air on the SEC Network, features No. 11 Arkansas, No. 16 Auburn, No. 18 Georgia and No. 21 Missouri.
What: SEC Gymnastics Championship
When: 7 p.m. – LSU, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky on ESPN2
3 p.m. – Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, Missouri on SEC Network
Where: Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis
“I feel really excited going into SECs,” freshman Alyssa Baumann said. “I think it’s one of the biggest meets obviously of the year. The SEC is just so competitive, so it’s almost like another national championship. It’s going to be a really good competition, and I think we’re ready for it.”
Senior and 15-time All-American Alex McMurtry, the 2017 Honda Award winner and defending NCAA all-around champion, leads the UF contingent.
“In my mind, and I know the team really feels very similar, this is the most exciting meet of our entire season,” Rowland said. “Our greatest rivals are all on the floor at the same time. That’s the SEC. They’re our best rivals, they’re our toughest rivals, and the competition level is going to be the sky’s the limit. It’s something that each team in our conference is used to, competing week-in and week-out against the best of the best in the nation.
“This weekend is no different other than the fact that everybody is there all at the same time, which just enhances the excitement, anticipation, and enjoyment level. It really just prepares us for a good NCAA meet.”
Next up will be the NCAA Regionals April 7 at a site to be determined.