By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
The Florida women’s gymnastics team opened the 2020 season with a bang.
The third-ranked Gators defeated No. 19 Arkansas, 197.350-194.400, before an Exactech Arena crowd of 7,531 Friday at the O’Connell Center.
“It was a very solid start for this team and we’re all relieved,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “The anticipation, the buildup, the long wait half of the season, the chip that this team has carried on their shoulders and the constant reminders throughout preseason and everything just made it a little bit longer yet really easy to get through.”
The Gators, who failed to advance to the NCAA Championship for just the second time in program history last year, jumped out to a quick lead and built on it the rest of the way.
In fact, were it not for the last competitor for the Razorbacks, Sophia Carter, scoring a 9.875 on the floor exercise to take home third place in that event, UF would have posted a shutout.
Leading the way was sophomore All-America Trinity Thomas.
After placing third on Florida’s first event, the vault, with a 9.825, Thomas proceeded to win the next three events, scoring a 9.925 on the uneven bars before finishing with back-to-back 9.975s on the balance beam and floor exercise.
In addition, despite being the only Gator in the all-around competition, Thomas claimed a win there as well with her score of 39.70.
Though she continues to chase that elusive first 10, Thomas now has 10 scores of 9.975 to her credit in various events through one season and the first meet of season two.
“I had a lot of fun out there tonight,” Thomas said. “We’ve been itching to be in the O’Dome for weeks now so to finally get out there and show Gator Nation what we’ve got this year was really special.”
UF’s lone freshman, Payton Richards, was solid in her first meet as a collegian.
She took part in the first three events and recorded scores of 9.85 on the vault, 9.80 on the bars and 9.825 on the balance beam.
“It was crazy,” she said. “I think tonight was very calm. I was like super-nervous because I have never competed in an arena with that many people watching, But having your teammates with you makes the biggest difference.”
Florida captured the top five places in each of the first three events before Carter salvaged something for Arkansas by edging UF’s Amelia Hundley and Alyssa Baumann, who tied for fourth, by .025 on the floor.
Florida’s Nya Reed also had a big night.
She won the vault with a 9.875, just nipping Richards (9.850), then finished runner-up to Thomas on the floor exercise with a 9.925. Both her scores were personal-bests.
“This team really had a purpose and a will to work together as a team and get through the tough times,” Rowland noted. “I have to say I am ecstatic and exceptionally proud of everybody for what they have accomplished up to now.”
Next up, Florida takes its first road trip of the season to face the Missouri Tigers. Meet time is 7 p.m. in Columbia and the competition will air on the SEC Network.