Thomas still limited as No. 1 Gators gymnastics team heads to SEC Championship meet

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida may be without the services of star Trinity Thomas at today's SEC Championship meet.

Having dominated the field this season, the No. 1-ranked Florida gymnastics team turns its attention to asserting said supremacy over the SEC once again when it competes at SEC Championships in Huntsville, Alabama, beginning with Session I of the meet at 3:30 p.m. today before Session II at 8 p.m.

The Gators are in the latter half of the dual-meet along with LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. Florida, as the top seed, has the Olympic rotation today, meaning UF will compete in the order of vault-uneven bars-beam-floor. 

The preparation doesn’t change, possibly because it’s nothing new for the Gators (8-0) — UF has won three consecutive SEC regular-season titles. But the anticipation does, and it isn’t just because Florida, like all spring and winter athletes, couldn’t see through the 2020 campaign.

“This meet I would say we prepare very similar to any dual-meet we have throughout the regular season. However, it’s something that I would say, this team, the excitement is elevated times five,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “Being on podium, I think that’s the biggest difference for this team. They love competing on podium.”

But the abrupt end to last season does come into play, too; the Gators had spent countless hours fine-tuning and perfecting their craft without a chance at realizing their goal, let alone the conference championship or even the final regular season, which would have been Senior Night for four gymnasts who never put on a orange and blue leotard again on Florida’s competition floor. 

There’s undoubtedly some elation in knowing these Gators will see the season through. 

“It’s something that this team was not able to experience last year,” Rowland said. “So we’re looking forward to definitely making the most of it.”

The Gators arrive in Huntsville having registered three of the top-10 scores in the nation, including the No. 1 mark of 198.275 in the home finale Feb. 26 against Auburn. 

Though it sounds as if UF’s top gymnast, junior Trinity Thomas, will be limited for Saturday’s session after she didn’t compete in Florida’s win March 5 at Alabama due to a pre-meet ankle injury she suffered in her uneven bars warm-up. 

“Trin’s doing OK. She’s making baby steps everyday,” Rowland said. “I can’t guarantee — I don’t foresee her doing everything this weekend, but we still have a couple more days of practice, and when Trinity feels good and she gives us the green light, it’s a go.”

It may not be Saturday, however, so UF once again must be ready to compete regardless, a decision her teammates and head coach fully support. 

“If it’s this weekend, great. If it’s just continuing to move in the right direction and be ready for (NCAA) Regionals, that’s great as well,” Rowland continued. “I know she’s got the team’s back, the team’s got her back, but we’ve got a couple more days.” 

Without her two weeks ago — though her presence was surely missed — the Gators hardly missed a beat in their last trip to the state of Alabama. 

Alyssa Baumann claimed her second win on floor of the season with a 9.975, equaling her collegiate best, while Megan Skaggs shared the beam win with Bama’s Luisa Blanco; the latter would go on to win the all-around title, while Skaggs scored a 39.575, good for second and just shy of her collegiate best, too. 

When it comes to stepping up when someone goes down, the Gators haven’t missed a beat this season. 

The depth and talent are apparent, but the cohesion is arguably the collective’s best asset, and it’s one the Gators will rely on when the spotlights come on Saturday night. 

“We’re really emphasizing the fact that the consistency of this team is unbelievable,” Rowland said. “The confidence that this team has in each other is really unbelievable, and really continuing to be mindful to focus on the details as we go throughout our season and now into the postseason.” 

Note: Georgia pulled out of the competition because of COVID-19 issues within the program ... SEC Network will provide TV coverage for both sessions.