Gators gymnastics in Fort Worth for NCAA Championships

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida gymnastics coach Jenny Rowland led the Gators to their third consecutive Southeastern Conference regular season title (7-0) this year.

On the heels of an unblemished regular season as well as an impressive showing at NCAA Regionals, it all comes down to this for the Florida gymnastics team: the NCAA Championships. 

The No. 1-ranked Gators are in Fort Worth, Texas, where they look to capture their fourth team title in program history. The competition begins at 1 p.m. today when UF takes the floor at the Dickies Arena against Minnesota, Michigan and California in the first of two four-team sessions. 

Although Florida’s advanced to the NCAA Championship 37 times in the event’s 39-year history, this weekend marks the program’s first trip to the finals since the 2018 season, as UF missed out in 2019 and the beginning of the pandemic put a premature end to the 2020 season. 

1 p.m. ET: Minnesota, Florida, Michigan, California

6 p.m.: Alabama, Oklahoma, Utah, LSU

Saturday, Final, ABC

3:30 p.m.: Top two teams from each Friday session

The Gators haven’t shied away from discussing what’s at stake, although that doesn’t change the message. 

“Enjoying the moment and focusing on what we can control. Really that’s been key —control our controllables and don’t worry about anything else that’s going on,” Florida coach Jenny Rowland said. “And really just take a breath and soak it all in.”

Her gymnasts have embraced it after a record-setting season and now with a championship within grasp. 

“Be normal,” junior all-around Nya Reed said. “Just being ourselves and remembering how we train.” 

Rowland, the SEC’s Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season, said the Gators have been “spot on” in the practice sessions following the Athens Regional on April 2-3; considering it’s a message Rowland hasn’t strayed too far from this season, the pre-meet regimen may ultimately be less of a factor to the team’s success than the health of star gymnast Trinity Thomas. 

Leading up to the Athens Regional, Thomas, one of five gymnasts in the country with 10s on multiple events, had only been training on uneven bars after suffering an ankle injury March 5 at Alabama during her warm-up routine, but that didn’t stop her from recording her fourth 10 of the season in her only event of the night.

With everything on the line, it looks as if Thomas will be back to competing in the all-around for the Gators — though her health is the priority, meaning it will once again be Thomas’ decision. 

“Trin actually has been training all four events. We will be having a training session (Thursday) so we’re going to test it out,” Rowland said. “She really, like I had said before, she’s in control and pretty much she’s navigating what she feels comfortable doing. If she says ‘I’m ready to go,’ it’s something we have the utmost faith and confidence in her.”

One look at the competition and it’s clear why the Gators could use Thomas at her best. 

The Gators narrowly beat out Minnesota, 197.70–197.425, to claim the top spot in Athens, while No. 5-ranked California has been a consistent presence at NCAA Championships since 2014 and is coming off its best regular season in program history, having set school records on uneven bars, beam and floor; and Michigan is up to No. 2 in the rankings as it looks for its first team championship. 

It’s a loaded field in the first session, and only two can advance to make up Saturday’s four-team championship final. 

“Really it’s anybody’s game. I would have to say, just looking across the board at these top eight teams across the country, it’s phenomenal,” Rowland said. “The level, the execution. Everything overall. It’s anybody’s game, and, really, we’re just planning on making the most of Day 1. Really locking in and doing what the Gators do best, and that’s have fun, be loose, and when they enjoy what they’re doing, they’re awesome.”