Skaggs makes most of opportunity for No. 1 Gators gymnastics

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida's Megan Skaggs competes Friday against Arkansas. Skaggs claimed her first SEC Gymnast of the Week honor Tuesday after picking up her first all-around title last week.

Megan Skaggs’ smile isn’t as visible as it once was, due to the blue mask she wears to cover her mouth and nose when the Florida gymnastics team practices and competes. 

Those who have seen Skaggs smile, however, know she’s (no pun intended) beaming underneath as of late — especially after her patience was rewarded. 

Skaggs made her first all-around appearance for the Gators since the 2019 NCAA Regionals in UF’s 197.425 -197.25 win last Friday at No. 8 Arkansas, and the Marietta, Georgia, native made sure to capitalize on the opportunity to show the world what she’d spent countless hours fine-tuning in the gym. 

The senior gymnast captured the all-around title with a 39.50 against the Razorbacks, including a 9.95 on beam to equal the collegiate best set in 2019, meaning there’s a good chance Skaggs will be back in Florida’s line-up when it competes against Missouri today at 6:45 p.m.  

Her all-around total was the top mark in SEC competition throughout the weekend and the No. 3 mark nationally as the Gators remained undefeated and improved to 3-0 on the season. 

Instead of getting in her head over the opportunity, Skaggs was her composed and collected self, which coach Jenny Rowland believed was critical to her success on the competition floor. 

“I think the big standout for us was that she competed how she trains, and we’ve slowly and surely gotten her to a point where she’s confident, she’s ready,” Rowland said of Skaggs. “I had given her a little heads up before we left, like the day before we left, that there was a chance we were going to put her in the all-around, and I knew instantly when she looked at me and told me ‘Jenny, I’m ready, I got this’ that it was the right time.”

Skaggs, who won a gold medal at the 2015 Pan American games, said she didn’t fully realize, however, she would play a prominent role until the night before the meet when the team was running through the competition plan. 

Until then, it was simply an option on the table. 

When she heard her name called each time, reality set in. 

“She told me to prepare for all-around on Wednesday, which was our last practice here before we traveled, but I’m a very much give-it-to-me-in-writing kind of person, like I need to know for sure,” Skaggs said. “I believed her to a certain extent, and was just going to wait until I heard my name called, and we went over line-ups at our dinner the night before the meet and I heard my name called on all the meets, so that was when I officially was like ‘OK, we’re doing all-around.' ”

Throughout all four events, Rowland was right — Skaggs focused on performing in a manner similar to how she practiced, which required mental fortitude to block out the moment’s magnitude. 

Skaggs said her approach to competing from a cerebral standpoint has “changed a lot” in her time in Gainesville, and she said her prior mindset limited her when it came to making UF’s line-up. 

“I think a huge reason why I didn’t make it into the beam line-up last year was mental, it was never physical. I know I’m capable of putting up a good score and doing a really solid beam routine, but I think mentally I was not where I needed to be, and that showed in my performance,” Skaggs said. “So starting off this year, I really tried to just approach it with a different mindset and focusing on one skill at a time. And keeping myself calm throughout a beam routine in practice and treating every beam routine like it’s a competitive beam routine has really helped me.”

Her success against the Razorbacks affirmed she should continue to approach competitions as if they’re practices on Florida’s campus — as long as Skaggs does just that, she’ll more than likely continue to be a critical component of the nation’s top-ranked team. 

“When I got up there, I just thought ‘Yeah, it’s just another one,’ so I think that’s just a really good spot for me to be in mentally,” Skaggs said. “I think any competition I’m just glad to be able to represent the Gators, and to be called on all four events is a huge accomplishment, because we have such a deep team and so many strong players on each event. I was really happy that I had earned those spots, and really just glad to show off what I’ve been doing at practice on Friday.” 

UF gymnastics

Who: No. 24 Missouri vs. No. 1 Florida

When: 6:45 p.m. toFriday

Where: Exactech Arena.

TV: SEC Network 

Tickets: Sold out