Florida hosts Georgia in first home gymnastics meet of 2021 season

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida's gymnasts celebrate after beating Auburn last week at Auburn Arena.

After scoring a 197.5000 in the team’s return to competition at No. 14 Auburn, the highest-ever mark recorded by Florida in a season-opener, the No. 1-ranked Gators gymnastics team will host its first meet of the 2021 campaign when they welcome No. 7 Georgia to the Exactech Arena tonight for a sold-out meet beginning at 6:45.

Masks are required for the 2,200 fans attending the socially distanced meet.

The Gators and 'Dawgs each secured wins in their first meets of 2021, with UF downing the Tigers and UGA defeating Missouri, 196.1500-194.2500. 

“I have to say that score caught my eye afterwards, too. I really was so involved in the competition throughout all four events. I was paying attention to scores a little bit, but for the most part was trying to just pay attention to the performances, the energy, our team, and at the end it was a really pleasant surprise to see that score overall,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said of the Gators’ record-setting debut, “but really not surprising when reflecting and looking back on the competition. It really, I told our athletes this week, that this was the most calm, most normal warm-up competition that I’ve ever experienced with a team.”

Though if there’s anything Rowland and the Gators shouldn’t have been surprised by in the moment, it was Trinity Thomas’ upperclassman debut being an unforgettable one.

Her 39.75 total in Auburn resulted in four event titles for Thomas, the junior’s 15th all-around title, good for ninth all-time in Florida history despite having just begun her third season in Gainesville. 

Thomas scored a 9.975 on vault against the Tigers, one of six collegiate-best marks equaled or set by the Gators in the season-opener. 

Rowland credited all of her athletes in the event, saying sophomore Payton Richards set the standard. 

“Unbelievable vaults. Really great rotation,” Rowland said. “I always like to say our lead-off really sets that momentum going. Payton did a phenomenal vault in her opening debut of her 2021 season, and really I think just provided that calmness for the rest of the team to just be themselves, to be normal.”

Freshman Ellie Lazzari’s debut was one for the record books, too. 

The Wheaton, Illinois, native scored a 9.95 on beam, the highest mark in program history for a UF competitor in their beam debut, breaking Sydney Johnson-Scharpf’s previous record of 9.925.

“Ellie wanted to be a Gator, we are so thrilled that we wanted Ellie to be a Gator as well, and we knew from her past history that she’s a great competitor. She thrives, she loves competing,” Rowland said. “But I think what’s different is to see her love and passion grow so much for this team, and this team have the support and uplift for her. It really has helped to guide her and also have that confidence in herself to be the best she can be for this team. It really wasn’t a huge surprise, and I’m really extremely happy for Ellie.”

Now, the Gators look to improve upon their record-setting debut when they compete against an SEC rival.

“Any meet in the SEC is huge, and then just double and triple that with Georgia here. The rivalry that these two teams have really just makes for a great competition,” Rowland said. “I know this team’s really excited, most of all to be back in the O’Dome in front of Gator Nation and to put on a performance and a show for everybody to enjoy.”