By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
The third-ranked Florida gymnastics team closed out the regular season in style Friday with a 198.025-196.325 dual-meet win over No. 25 Penn State before an Exactech Arena crowd of 6,805 at the O’Connell Center.
It was Senior Night for the Gators, with student-athletes Alicia Boren and Amanda Cheney both honored in a post-meet celebration.
“This really was a phenomenal evening,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “We had a great time celebrating and honoring these two amazing seniors who have done a really awesome job of leading this team.
“We were first-time SEC regular-season champions and really just finished off our regular season with a bang. This is only the beginning for postseason.”
The win improved UF to 7-2, while Penn State slipped to 8-8.
Leading the way for the Gators was freshman sensation Trinity Thomas, who scored a personal-best 9.95 in winning the vault.
She also shared the titles on the balance beam with teammates Boren and Megan Skaggs, all with 9.925s, and on the floor exercise with Boren, with both earning a near-perfect 9.975.
Thomas and Boren were neck-and-neck all evening in the all-around competition, with Thomas finishing with a 39.750 and Boren with a 39.725, just .025 behind.
“I think starting on vault strong for the first time gave me the confidence to get through the rest of the meet,” Thomas said. “I felt like I did pretty well.”
Skaggs, competing in the all-around for the first time this season, was third with a 39.550, giving the Gators a sweep of the top three spots.
“It definitely feels good,” Skaggs said. “A floor routine that hasn’t been unveiled this late in the season – it just felt great to do it in front of so many people the first time.”
Florida has struggled on vault all season, but came through Friday with a season-high mark of 49.475.
The Gators would add the same score on bars before finishing with a 49.550 on beam and a 49.525 on floor to tie their season-high score of 198.025, matching the mark set in a narrow loss at then-No. 1 Oklahoma on Feb. 1.
“I thought the night was really awesome,” Boren said. “We did what we’ve been training and what we were looking for. The team helped me carry that with their confidence, their hype, their energy and their positivity. That just gave me confidence and helped me have a great night.”
Cheney echoed those sentiments.
“It definitely felt good,” she said. “This whole week I’ve just thought about being super in the moment and enjoying every moment. It was definitely the perfect ending to the regular season, but I’m definitely excited to see what more we can do.”
In addition, junior Amelia Hundley picked up a win on the uneven bars, tying Penn State’s Lauren Bridgens with a 9.925 while teammates Boren, Thomas and Savannah Schoenherr all tied for third with scores of 9.90.
Next up, the Gators travel to New Orleans for the SEC Championships on March 23.
“What this team showed tonight is what I know we’re capable of doing and then some,” Rowland said. “I know this team is going to take a lot away from tonight and keep moving on. It was Senior Night, but we still have a lot more to go.”