Florida vs. LSU a rivalry in another sport

Florida gymnast Alex McMurtry is ready to lead the Gators against top-ranked LSU today. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer/file]

Alex McMurtry remembers the feeling. She had just finished off her spectacular junior season with a perfect score of 10 on the bars.

“That should do it,” she thought. “We didn’t win it all, but that should clinch second place.”

She was wrong. LSU finished strong on the balance beam and edged the Gators out in St. Louis for second behind national champ Oklahoma. That meant LSU had finished ahead of Florida for the fifth straight time.

“That was the worst one,” McMurtry said. “We remember them getting hyped up saying, ‘We beat Florida.’ That was tough to hear.”

Today at 6:45 p.m in the O’Dome, the two national powers will meet again in another grudge match. It may be early, but it’s still Florida-LSU. The rivalry has replaced Alabama-Georgia as the best in the conference, if not the country.

“I like their girls, but the rivalry just keeps on growing,” said UF gymnast Kennedy Baker. “It keeps it interesting. It’s an opportunity to show them what we have.”

What Florida has right now is a mix of veterans and freshmen who are ranked seventh based on their road score at West Virginia to open the season last week. LSU, which opened at home, is ranked No. 1.

Of course, it’s only the second meet of the season. The goal is not to be at your best tonight, but at the end of the season when the hardware is awarded.

“It’s trial and error,” said Florida coach Jenny Rowland. “It’s a learning process. We want to see who we are going to be at the end of the season. This team is different from the last two seasons because we have depth.”

So while the goal is to win, the bigger picture is to take another step toward the end goal.

Still, the UF gymnasts who were there last year can still hear “L-S-U” ringing in their ears.

“They want to beat us and we want to beat them,” McMurtry said. “We don’t want to lose a meet this season.

“I’m really excited to have them on our home turf. I think this is our year to shine. I know they lost a lot of seniors so if there is a year to put them in their place, I think this is the year.”

While the meet starts at 6:45, UF is encouraging fans to arrive early because of increased security and the opportunity to see the floor projection introduction for the first time.

“We’re thrilled to be in front of Gator Nation,” Rowland said. “It’s always a very special place to compete here. Our team thrives off their energy.”

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

UF gymnastics

Who: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 7 Florida

When: 6:45 p.m. today

Where: Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center

TV: SEC Network

Tickets: O’Connell Center ticket windows open at 5 p.m., with the gates opening at 5:30 p.m. Gates 1, 2 and 3 will be open for each gymnastics meet.