By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
Fresh off winning the program’s first regular-season title since the Southeastern Conference began awarding the same in 2017, the third-ranked Florida gymnastics squad closes out its dual-meet schedule against No. 25 Penn State this evening at 6:45 p.m. at the Exactech Arena in the O’Connell Center.
“It was a really special occasion,” Coach Jenny Rowland said of the Gators’ win at No. 20 Arkansas last Friday. “In that competition, actually we saw a lot of really good things going on compared to the two previous meets.”
From 1981-2016, the winner of the SEC Championships was considered the league champion. Following the change, LSU won back-to-back regular-season crowns in 2017 and 2018 before the Gators (6-2, 6-1 SEC) broke through in 2019. Auburn (7-2, 5-2), which lost to Florida on Feb. 8, had a chance to share this year’s title with the Gators but lost at Alabama in its last meet, leaving UF as undisputed SEC champion.
Tonight is Senior Night, with Alicia Boren and Amanda Cheney to be honored in a post-match ceremony.
“I’m really nervous for the emotions,” said Boren, a 14-time All-American. “I’m really close to this team, and I’ve been emotional in the past. But I think it will all happen after the meet because we still have a job to do.”
Asked for her top Florida memory, Boren was quick to respond.
“My freshman year, the first time that I smiled,” she said. “That was pretty big for me, and it happened before a bunch of screaming people. It was super-exciting and Jenny was excited. Having me come off the floor and just congratulating me on being able to take in the crowd and everything was a big moment for me.”
Cheney has special memories of her own.
“Oh my gosh, so many thoughts,” she said. “I’m just excited to be in the O-Dome one more time and just take it all in and be super thankful and grateful for this experience the past four years.
“I always say my favorite part about being a Gator is running out of the Gator head and just hearing Gator Nation and looking up and seeing how full it is in the O-Dome. That’s definitely my all-time favorite.”
While the two seniors will be featured tonight, freshman Trinity Thomas, who leads UF with 17 event titles, was honored for the eighth straight time in the SEC’s weekly awards list.
Thomas was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for the fifth time for her performance against Arkansas, and she also has won the SEC Gymnast of the Week award on three other occasions.
Florida’s next competition will be the 2019 SEC Championships in New Orleans on March 23.
“We celebrated. Now it’s time to get ready for postseason,” Rowland noted. “We do have one more home meet in the O-Dome. We’re really excited to be part of our crowd one more time, especially for Senior Night to honor and celebrate two amazing student-athletes, Amanda and Alicia.
“I know this team is really excited to honor them and support them and just really enjoy one more time in the O-Dome in front of Gator Nation with them.”
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 bus transports fans from Commuter Lot Garage IX to the O’Connell Center. For more information, visit FloridaGators.com
Who: No. 25 Penn State (8-7) vs. No. 3 Florida (6-2)
When: 6:45 p.m.
Where: Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center
Online: SEC Network+