Nation’s top regular-season gymnastics meet is next: No. 1 Florida at No. 2 LSU

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida gymnast Alyssa Baumann does her routine on the beam as head coach Jenny Rowland, right, watches during a meet against Missouri at Exactech Arena on Jan. 29.

Following a much-needed week away from competing after posting the nation’s top score in its previous meet, the No. 1-ranked Gators gymnastics team returns to the floor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at 7:15 p.m. today in a highly anticipated match-up against No. 2 LSU.

Florida was impressive its last time out, registering a 197.85 on Jan. 29 at home against Missouri, giving the Gators (4-0) the highest score in collegiate gymnastics at the halfway point of the 2021 season. 

During Florida’s weekend away, No. 5 Oklahoma set the nation’s second-highest score with a 197.80 in a tri-meet against No. 8 Denver and Temple University, although UF coach Jenny Rowland is more focused on the Gators' continued improvement rather than maintaining a grasp on the nation’s top marks in the regular season. 

“It was awesome to have a week off,” said Rowland, adding UF sought a balance between improving and resting. “We were very mindful of giving the team a lot less pounding activities. Floor and vault was down to a minimum, especially at the first half of the week.” 

But Rowland and her staff, despite seeking a stress-free week for the team, weren’t about to waste a week of potential improvement. 

Florida’s gymnasts remained focused on progressing throughout the week, knowing a return to competition was looming against the highest-ranked opponent remaining on their schedule. 

“We had a lot of intersquad opportunities. We like to call them challenges, we give the team challenges and certain little goals to attain on each event, individually and as a team, and if everybody meets those goals, then they’re finished with the assignment,” Rowland said. “So we’re really trying to spice it up a little bit, keep it interesting and keep challenging them in different ways so they can keep holding themselves to a high standard, and just trying their best to keep getting better each time.”

The time off may have been just that — a quick break rather than a decrease in the workload — if the opponent weren’t the Tigers (4-0). Although they’re led by first-year LSU coach Jay Clark rather than the legendary D-D Breaux, the talent remains on the roster.

Though many, if not all, Florida programs frequently employ the “every SEC team is dangerous” line when discussing upcoming opponents, Rowland acknowledged LSU may warrant a bit more emphasis. 

“Really our goal going into LSU, is unlike any other weekend. What can we do better? What can we learn? What did we learn from the first four meets this year, and how can we make it better?,” Rowland said. “This team has done a great job of supporting, uplifting, of encouraging everybody. Just really working on those details.” 

But Rowland made sure to still work the mantra in: every SEC opponent deserves respect, and there’s no letting your guard down. 

Though that doesn’t exclude putting a greater deal of prominence on a certain match-up. This is the Tigers after all, the SEC’s champion in four of the last six seasons. The Gators know what’s at stake. This is the 25th consecutive meeting both teams bring top-10 rankings.

“It’s very easy to motivate a team when they know that they’re competing against an SEC team, there’s no down week in the SEC in gymnastics,” Rowland said. “But really, just for instance I have to say because she comes to mind, Payton (Richards) came up to me yesterday and said, ‘Jenny, I’m so ready for LSU, I can’t wait, I’ve never competed there and I’m so excited,'  so really the energy is contagious and I know everybody’s just focused, locked-in and ready to have a great time on Friday.” 

Today

Who: No. 1 Florida at No. 2 LSU

When: 7:15 p.m.

TV: SEC Network