By Jim Harvin/Correspondent
The Florida gymnastics team certainly made the most of its opportunities Friday.
The No. 2 Gators not only celebrated breast cancer awareness with their 14th Link to Pink meet, but also wrapped up their second straight SEC regular-season crown with a 198.050-197.450 dual-meet win against No. 8 Alabama.
Led by sophomore All-America Trinity Thomas, the Gators (9-0, 7-0 SEC) prevailed over the Crimson Tide (4-4-1, 3-2) before 9,301 at Exactech Arena crowd and an SEC Network audience.
Alabama is the third top-10 opponent UF has defeated this season.
Florida’s score was its second-highest of the season, outdone only by the 198.375 score against LSU. Florida’s 198.05 is the nation’s No. 5 total of the 2020 season. Half of the nation’s top 10 totals of 2020 belong to the Gators.
“I know the Gators and for many of them this means a lot,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “It really is a special night.”
The meet was close throughout, with UF leading by a mere 1/10 of a point after one event.
The Gators expanded the lead to .125 at the midway point, then to .375 after a stellar 49.675 on the balance beam heading into the final event.
Florida turned back the Tide on the floor exercise, scoring a 49.575 to finish strong.
After the final scores were announced, Rowland and the Gators celebrated with confetti.
Thomas netted her sixth all-around title of the season with a final mark of 39.650, but it came by the slimmest of margins as Alabama’s Lexi Graber was right behind with a 39.625.
Senior Rachel Gowey noted UF’s effort comes from within.
“It’s just really taken the dedication in and out of the gym,” Gowey said. “This season, we’re taking care of ourselves way more out of the gym, doing what we need to do for our bodies to keep us healthy during the season. So that may be getting more sleep, eating healthier, going to treatment every day instead of three times a week. Really dedicating ourselves to ourselves and taking the time we need to become better in the gym.”
UF’s Sierra Alexander (9.95, vault) and Leah Clapper (9.975, beam) each set career highs while Amelia Hundley (9.90, uneven bars), Alyssa Baumann (9.975, floor) and Savannah Schoenherr (9.90, vault) tied career bests.
“It just means so much, especially since it’s my senior season,” Alexander said. “It just really shows me that hard work really, really pays off and that just the support from my coaches and my team. Every time I run down the vault runway that’s all I think about, just making them proud and doing it for my team.”
Added Baumann: “I think it’s just cool to be able to have this platform, Jenny talked to us about that before the meet. We’re able to have this platform and use it to do more than just gymnastics and help other people. So, any time we get that opportunity we want to take advantage of it and we did so in a special way tonight.”
Next up, the Gators close out the SEC portion of their schedule with a dual meet at Georgia on Friday.
That will be followed by a March 7 road meet at Penn State before the regular-season finale when UF hosts Texas Woman’s University on March 13 at 6:45 p.m.