'Nothing compares to college gymnastics': Championship atmosphere awaits Gators at NCAAs

Noah Ram
Special to Gator Sports

When Alyssa Baumann first stepped on the University of Florida campus, “Despacito” rang as the top song in the nation, with “Believer” and “Body Like a Back Road” in Billboard’s top 10. 

That was August 2017 when the wide-eyed freshman arrived to UF from Dallas. 

Four and a half years later, Baumann’s Florida gymnastics career will end in North Texas, this time Fort Worth, for the NCAA Championships, which begin at Dickies Arena Thursday. Florida’s first rotation starts at 6 p.m. (ESPN2) versus No. 3 Michigan, No. 7 Auburn and No. 11 Missouri. 

Baumann landed in Gainesville with a bevy of accolades. She finished second on balance beam at the 2014 and 2015 P&G Championships and won gold for the U.S. in the team event at the 2014 World Championships. 

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Alyssa Baumann an All-American for the Gators

Florida Gators gymnast Alyssa Baumann does a Gator Chomp in her performance on the floor during an SEC gymnastics meet against LSU held at Exactech Arena, in Gainesville, Feb. 11, 2022. The Gators were unbeaten in the SEC this season

At Florida, that list has only grown. She’s an eight-time All-American and was named All-SEC in 2018, ’19, ’21 and ’22. 

But, as a team, the Gators have failed to win the big one with Baumann. 

In 2018 and 2021, the Orange and Blue received spots in the final, but ended in third and fourth place respectively. In 2020, the team maintained an undefeated record — when COVID-19 cut the season short. 

Baumann said this campaign seems different compared to previous ones. 

“Last year, at this time, we already started leveling out and didn’t have any more to give,” she said. “This year, we wanted to keep moving forward. Each week, you have to do a bit more.” 

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On that point, the fifth-year senior said the squad watched film of its showing at NCAA Regionals last weekend and noticed issues that must be addressed. 

“There’s some form things and a couple of handstands we can improve,” she said. “I think the consistency this season has been much better compared to previous seasons.” 

Gators' big scores at regionals

It’s worth noting that UF’s final score Saturday in Auburn (198.775) was the third highest in the last 40 years of NCAA gymnastics. 

“It is mind blowing,” coach Jenny Rowland said. “But at the same time, regionals was so calm and peaceful. It wasn’t surprising at all. This Gator team is capable of great things.” 

Baumann also saved her best for regionals and tied a season-high on beam (9.95), which helped the Gators bag a school-record 49.75 beam score. 

The NCAA Championships presents a final opportunity for the three-time SEC balance beam champ to score a 10. Judges have awarded her 9.975 six times on beam and four times on floor. 

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With Olympic medalists such as Auburn’s Sunisa Lee and Utah’s Grace McCallum competing in Fort Worth, stiff competition is expected. That excites Baumann. 

“In my five years, I have not seen such a high level of college gymnastics, and there’s just so many teams that are great,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s anyone’s trophy.” 

Hometown support in Fort Worth

Baumann said more commotion surrounds NCAAs than World Championships. 

“The team aspect is completely different,” she said. “You aren’t able to get as hype as you are in college, and the crowd definitely doesn’t get as into it. Nothing compares to college gymnastics.” 

The DFW metroplex native expects many family members and friends to support her, which she said feels awesome after limited capacity in 2021. 

“To finish off where I began my gymnastics career about 21 years later is exciting,” she said.