Mat momentum: Gators face Wildcats in battle of Top 20 teams

Florida gymnast Rachel Gowey competes on the bars during the opening meet of the season against Missouri at the Exactech Arena on Jan 11. The Gators beat the Tigers. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

By Jim Harvin, Correspondent

The No. 3 Florida women’s gymnastics team returns to the Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center for a dual meet with No. 17 Kentucky beginning at 5:45 p.m. today.

The Gators (2-0, 2-0) are coming off their first dual-meet win at LSU since 2011 with a thrilling 197.500-197.425 victory in a top-five battle before a Baton Rouge crowd of 12,703 last Friday.

The Wildcats (3-2, 1-0), meanwhile, began Southeastern Conference action with a 195.275-193.875 home win over Arkansas.

“It was a fabulous Friday last week against LSU,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “I’m really proud of this team and how they handled themselves under a super-awesome but very rowdy crowd at LSU. It’s an environment that’s very difficult to compete in, and they all handled themselves very well.

“We started off a little conservative as far as what I know they are capable of, but really, after the first event, they just started building on their success person-by-person and event-by-event. By the end, they were not going to let anybody take it away from them. That was really exciting to see.”

Sophomore Alyssa Baumann will make her first home appearance today. She missed UF’s opening win after suffering a fall from bars during the team’s Jan. 10 training session that sidelined her for the Jan. 11 opener. Baumann made her season debut at LSU last week, anchoring Florida’s floor and beam events with scores of 9.875 and 9.90, respectively.

“It was definitely a stressful situation,” Baumann said. “The meet was so close the whole time, but all of last year I was in pressure situations and I knew that I could do it and I was capable of it. My team had done five good routines before me on both beam and floor, so it was really just about going out there and doing what I do in practice.

“I’m very excited about this week. It’s always the best to compete in front of your home crowd. I’m really looking forward to competing on beam and floor in front of 9,000 people and just having Gator Nation behind you is the best feeling.”

In related news, freshman Trinity Thomas was named SEC Freshman of the Week for the second straight time while junior All-American Rachel Gowey claimed SEC Specialist of the Week honors following her big win on the balance beam (9.925) against LSU.

“We’re coming off a big high from winning at LSU last week, but we’re excited to get a crowd that’s going to be on our side this week,” junior Sierra Alexander said. “It’s a big confidence boost. We’re confident in our routines, we’re confident in ourselves and we definitely trust each other more now. It just makes us that much better.”

Baumann feels that last week’s win at LSU, where the Gators ended a 35-meet home winning streak for the Tigers dating back to March 8, 2013, bodes well.

“It is a long season, but I think it kind of shifts the mood,” she said. “We knew we were capable, but will it happen? Now we know yes, it did happen, and it just kind of gives us a boost going forward because we know that we can do it. We can really go all the way this year.”

Fans are encouraged to wear ‘Orange’ for today’s meet and also to note the early starting time (5:45 p.m.).

“We’re looking forward to being back home,” Rowland said. “There is nothing like competing in front of our Gator Nation, so the team is excited and pumped for that.”

Getting to the Arena: Season parking holders can enter the O’Connell Center lot off Lemerand Drive OR SW 2nd Avenue. Public parking is available in the O’Connell Center parking garage on first-come basis. Those wishing to park in the garage must enter lot off SW 2nd Avenue. Public parking is also available in the north end of Percy Beard Track (enter off SW 2nd Avenue), tennis stadium lot or fraternity row. A complimentary parking shuttle transports fans from Commuter Lot Garage IX to the O’Connell Center. For more information, visit


Who: No. 17 Kentucky (3-2, 1-0 SEC) vs. No. 3 Florida (2-0, 2-0)

When: 5:45 p.m.

Where: Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center

TV: SEC Network

Tickets: Visit