Florida Gators gymnastics team gearing up for NCAA regionals at Auburn

Noah Ram
Special to Gator Sports
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Megan Skaggs and Alyssa Baumann have a compiled a laundry list of accolades as Florida Gator gymnasts

The fifth years have collected multiple individual awards and saw Florida win four SEC championships, complete three unbeaten regular seasons and earn a trip to the final four. 

But the two lack one memento: A national championship. 

Two years ago, UF appeared on its way there after a 10-0 season, but COVID cut it short. Last season, the Gators finished fourth on the grandest stage — behind Michigan, Oklahoma and Utah. 

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Three SEC opponents at regionals

This campaign, Skaggs and Baumann receive one last shot at a national title as the No. 2 Gators head to Auburn, Alabama, beginning March 31 for the NCAA Regional Championships as a second seed.  

“This team has a lot to lean on as far as confidence goes,” coach Jenny Rowland said. “I think what’s even more exciting is this team continues to show up at practice and get better.” 

The field at Auburn comprises nine of the top 36 schools, including three other SEC foes — No. 7 Auburn, No. 10 Kentucky and No. 23 Georgia. No. 15 Denver and No. 17 Ohio State rank as the two other top 25 teams. 

The Gators already faced the three SEC programs in their regional — all on the road. On Jan. 21, UF rolled over the Bulldogs by over 2.5 points in Athens. A month later, the Gators beat the Wildcats, albeit by a much slimmer margin. Two weeks after that, Auburn tied Florida, the only meet UF didn't win this season. 

Gators know Auburn venue well

Skaggs said the team is excited to return to Auburn since the team is familiar with the equipment from its visit just a few weeks ago. 

For Rowland, every sojourn to Auburn holds special meaning. The Texas native spent five seasons with the Tigers before coming to Gainesville. 

“Auburn has a special place in my heart,” Rowland said. “It feels comfortable, and a place where I love standing next to my team and showing what the Gators are.” 

Gators gymnast Megan Skaggs performs on the beam during the meet against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, on Jan. 28, 2022.

Last season, Florida entered the NCAA limping off a third-place finish at the SEC Tournament, where Trinity Thomas was injured and limited to just bars.

Skaggs said this year’s squad proceeds to enhance their play, compared to past runs. 

“We haven’t quite peaked yet. We’re peaking at the right time, but we still have more we can clear up on,” she said. “It’s great to see we weren’t perfect this past Saturday, but we still brought home a conference championship.” 

When the Gators hit the floor, Rowland maintains a plethora of options. At the SEC Championships in Birmingham, Alabama, she started four all-around, and the Gators swept the top three spots with freshman Leann Wong, Skaggs and Thomas. Thomas, a senior, was named SEC Gymnast of the Year this week and became the fifth UF gymnast to win the award and first to repeat after she won in 2020. 

“I’m so grateful for their leadership, on-and-off the floor,” Rowland said regarding Thomas and Skaggs. 

UF gymnasts Alyssa Baumann and Trinity Thomas talk before their final floor routines during a meet against the Oklahoma at the Exactech Arena in Gainesville, Feb. 25, 2022. The two will be graduating at the end of this season.

Skaggs' improvement this year has impressed. She finished second in the SEC all-around; Thomas took first. Skaggs' transformation drew the respect of SEC Network gymnastics announcer and former gymnast Kathy Johnson Clarke. 

“It means the world, it takes a little bit of pressure off, knowing that this season shouldn’t have even happened for me,” Skaggs said. “Every moment I get with the team is a gift, so I’m just trying to cherish it.” 

The 13-day gap between the SEC Championships and NCAA start lists as the longest this season, which Rowland views as a positive. 

“We can pull back on numbers a little bit, maybe not the mental intensity, but there are things we can do to create team challenges at practice daily to hone in and get better,” she said. 

The Gators title quest begins next Thursday evening at 8 p.m. 

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