Gators gymnasts set for new NCAA Regional format

Florida gymnast Trinity Thomas competes on the bars during a meet against Penn State at the Exactech Arena in Gainesville March 8, 2019. The Gators won the meet over the Nittany Lions. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

By Jim Harvin, Correspondent

After making the 3,000-mile cross-country trip to compete at the NCAA Far West Regional in Corvallis, Ore., this weekend, the Florida women’s gymnastics team is ready to take the next step in pursuit of the 2019 national title.

The Gators (13-3), the Southeastern Conference regular-season champions and SEC Championship runners-up, come in as the No. 4 seed, tops in the region.

“We had a really great performance at our SEC Championships,” coach Jenny Rowland said. “The gymnastics was there, the energy was there, the passion was there. A few little details here or there could still be cleaned up, but I was really proud of this team and their confidence and their pride. We’re just going to carry that over into this next weekend.”

This is the first year of a new format in gymnastics where nine teams were selected for each of four regional meets. Previously, there were six regional sites, each with six teams.

The event got started Thursday night when Arizona met Iowa in the Far West opening round, one of four dual meets nationwide to trim each of the four regional sites down to eight teams.

UF will be in Session II of the regional semifinal that begins at 10 p.m. EST Friday. Florida will be joined by No. 13 seed and host Oregon State, Stanford and the Arizona/Iowa winner.

No. 5 seed Denver leads the first four teams into action at 5 p.m. and will be joined by No. 12 seed Boise State, Washington and Southern Utah.

The top two teams from each semifinal advance to the Day 3 regional final, with the top two finishers moving on to the NCAA Championships April 19-20 in Fort Worth, Texas.

“We’ve got two days of competition, which is new for our gymnastics postseason format,” Rowland noted. “It will be a little different for us this early competing back-to-back. That’s usually just been a national-caliber competition, but a week earlier, this team is ready. We’re preparing for what should be a great weekend.”

The Gators are a confident group.

“We watched film on Monday and we kind of talked through it,” said junior and three-time All-American Rachel Gowey. “I think we’re all just very motivated to give it our all.

“This season is coming to a close, so it’s really like you’ve got to give everything you’ve got inside and especially outside of the gym; making sure you drink enough water and really fueling our bodies to be the best they can be.”

Trinity Thomas, who was recently named SEC Freshman of the Year and received four All-America honors, is excited about her first foray into the NCAA Championship meet.

“It feels amazing; really, really special,” Thomas said. “I’m super-excited and I’ve worked really, really hard. I’ve just got to keep pushing because I’m not perfect, obviously. I need to keep working hard and keep going and keep trying my best.”

In related news, senior Alicia Boren raised her total of All-American honors to 10 after appearing on the all-around and floor exercise lists, while sophomores Alyssa Baumann (balance beam) and Megan Skaggs (uneven bars) also earned All-American honors.

“Really it’s just another competition like we’ve been training for all season,” Rowland said of the weekend ahead. “I’d say the things that we’ve been elevating our game and really been focusing on are just the little details that we can do outside of the gym so that it can elevate us inside the gym.”

What: NCAA Gymnastics Regional

When: Friday, Semi II, 10 p.m. ET. Saturday, Final (if qualified), 10 p.m.

Who: No. 4 Florida, No. 15 Oregon State, No. 25 Stanford, Arizona/Iowa

Where: Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, Oregon