Gator gymnasts place third at SEC Championship meet

Special to Gatorsports.com
Florida gymnast Ellie Lazzari competes on the beam during a meet against Kentucky at Exactech Arena in Gainesville last month. She claimed a share of the SEC Championship beam title Saturday with teammate Alyssa Baumann .

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. —The Florida gymnastics team, the SEC regular-season champion and the SEC Championship meet's top seed, finished third after some struggles Saturday in the Von Braun Center.

Florida never led after a fall or major break on each rotation.

"It wasn't one of the Gators' best meet," UF coach Jenny Rowland said. "The momentum [made it] hard to continue to move forward throughout the evening, which makes for a really challenging competition.

"On beam, the momentum picked up. We had five really solid hit routines after [Payton Richard's fall], so momentum was flowing, momentum was going forward." 

Alabama claimed its 10th title and first since 2015 at 197.875. LSU was second at 197.775. Florida was third with a season-low 196.975. Rounding out Saturday's results were Kentucky (196.825), Auburn (196.275), Missouri (196.125) and Arkansas (195.60).

LSU led all teams on vault (49.625) and floor (49.50). Alabama had top total on bars (49.425) and Florida again led on beam (49.525). Florida was forced to count a fall on bars for the first time since 2010.

Florida's Trinity Thomas, the nation's top all-arounder, was limited to just uneven bars Saturday. She injured her ankles during uneven bars warm-up at Alabama on March 5.

A pair of Gators were among a four-way tie for first on beam. It was the third consecutive SEC beam title for senior Alyssa Baumann, becoming the first in the event's 40-year history to win three beam titles. Her winning marks were 9.975 (2018) and 9.95 (2019, 2021).

Freshman Ellie Lazzari is the first freshman to claim a share of the beam title since Baumann won 2018 title.

"I just wanted to finish out strong, and [with it] being my freshman year, I just wanted to soak everything in and experience all the amazing energy in the arena, so I was really excited about my performance," Lazzari said.

"I always know that this team has my back, and I will always have theirs, and I just want to pick up the momentum and get the fire going, so that's what I did." 

Florida finds out where it will head for NCAA Regional Championship action Monday. Four sites will play host to NCAA Regional action the first weekend of April. The reveal for the regional fields is at 5 p.m. on NCAA.com.

"I really am 100 percent confident that this team has the courage to take the step forward and continue to do what they've been doing, and training with that confidence and conviction," Rowland said.

"(We will) reset, refocus, and that's what these Gators are really good at. They have that strength, they have that courage, and I know this is gonna sting a lot for them, but it's going to give them that little fuel to continue to take those steps forward and persevere for a couple more meets. That's what we have ahead of us, and I know the Gators are going to finish strongly."

SEC honors

Four Gators earned All-SEC or SEC All-Freshman in Saturday's competition.

The All-SEC Team is comprised of the student-athletes with the top two event scores (including ties) in each session of the SEC Championships. The All-Freshman team is comprised of the freshmen student-athlete with the top score (including ties) on each event in each SEC Championships' session.

Alyssa Baumann, Beam 

Leah Clapper, Beam 

Ellie Lazzari, Beam, (Freshman All-Around, Beam team)

Megan Skaggs, Bars 

"I was glad that I was able to do that beam routine because we really needed it at the time," Baumann said.

"It was a goal going into this meet to win beam again so I was happy I was able to do that." 

SEC Scholar-Athlete: Leah Clapper

Earlier Saturday, junior Leah Clapper was named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. This is the fourth such honor for the Gator program and Clapper is the first to receive the award since Alex McMurtry claimed the 2017 and 2018 honors.