Perfect 10: Why you should follow Florida Gators gymnasts on their run to an NCAA title

Shelly Darby
Gator Sports

The Florida gymnastics team opens NCAA regional competition Thursday night. 

If you're not making the trip to Auburn, Alabama, you can watch the Gators in the 8 p.m. session streaming live on ESPN+. You can also find coverage at this weekend. UF will be competing in the second session. The top two teams from the session move into the weekend's regional final. 

The Gators are 19-time NCAA Regional meet winners. 

In honor of gymnastics' perfect 10.0 score, we present 10 reasons to follow the Gators as they open the NCAA regionals. 

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Trinity Thomas 

We start with Thomas because no gymnast in the nation has as many perfect 10s in 2022 (3 floor, 2 vault, 1 beam) as the UF senior. When it comes to gymnastics, she's on  every list. 

Thomas is the SEC Gymnast of the Year, won the all-around at the SEC Championships and is up for the prestigious 2022 AAI Award — the award, known as the Heisman Trophy of college gymnastics, goes to the most outstanding senior female gymnast in the nation. 

Award finalist:Records and achievements keep coming for Gators senior Trinity Thomas

History with Auburn 

The Gators traveled to Auburn in their last SEC meet of the season, and the teams finished with a tie. Auburn needed to win to grab a piece of the regular-season title. At the SEC Championships, the Tigers were third behind champion UF and Alabama. 

Plus, UF coach Jenny Rowland spent five seasons with the Tigers before coming to Gainesville. She said last week Auburn is "a place where I love standing next to my team and showing what the Gators are.”

Title fight: Florida Gators gymnastics win SEC regular season outright with tie at Auburn

Fifth years

Graduate students Megan Skaggs and Alyssa Baumann are back this season for UF after gaining an extra year of eligibility after the pandemic-shortened season of 2020. The Gators started that season 10-0 and certainly looked like title contenders. 

This is their last shot at a national title. 

Another chance:Florida Gators gymnastics team gearing up for NCAA regionals at Auburn

“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.” 

Suni Lee

Yes, she is a freshman on Auburn's team, but she's always one to watch. She won gold last summer at the Tokyo Olympics and then still fulfilled her commitment to compete at Auburn, where she's an All-American. 

Leanne Wong

The Gators have their own fantastic freshman in Leanne Wong, who was on the All-SEC freshman team. Wong is one of three freshmen in the nation with four or more All-America honors (all-around, bars, beam, floor) — the others are Olympic medalists Lee and Jade Carey. 

Florida Gators gymnast Leanne Wong does a Gator Chomp in her performance on the floor during the SEC meet against LSU held at Exactech Arena, in Gainesville, Feb. 11, 2022.

Must-see TV

Speaking of the Olympics ... if you loved watching Lee, Simone Biles and the rest of the U.S. gymnasts at the Olympics, you won't be disappointed watching college gymnastics at this level. 

On national TV:Top-ranked Florida Gators rally to defeat No. 11 Alabama in SEC gymnastics match

The fans

Whether it's the O'Connell Center in Gainesville or Auburn Arena, there is no shortage of support at these events. UF saw a slew of sellout crowds this season; averaging 9,000-plus per meet. These fans are dedicated and bring plenty of energy and love for their teams. 

50 years of women's sports

While Title IX is far from perfect 50 years later, college gymnastics is growing and thriving. 

Outlets like the SEC, Big Ten and ACC networks now give women's gymnastics a level of exposure that didn't exist a generation ago. This season, ESPN aired more than 60 hours of gymnastics and ABC televised a regular-season meet for the first time when UF hosted SEC rival Alabama.

LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne performs earlier this year in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Social media darlings

Looking for a non-traditional way to follow your favorites during the NCAAs? Gymnasts have impressive Instagram and TikTok accounts. Just one example: LSU sophomore Livvy Dunne's Instagram and TikTok accounts reach a combined 6.6 million followers. Social media savvy Gators, just to name a few: Morgan Hurd, Baumann and Thomas. 

The Gator Chomp

Last but not least: You've seen it in the stands, at football games, basketball games, but there's nothing quite like a powerful, graceful floor routine — complete with a Gator Chomp.