Florida gymnastics: Trio of 10s lifts No. 2 Gators to win over No. 5 Auburn

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun

Florida gymnastics head coach Jenny Rowland echoed the words of Michael Scott of the TV show "The Office" following the second-ranked Gators' big win over the No. 5 Auburn Tigers from Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center Friday night.

"I'm not superstitious, but I am a little stitious," Rowland said.

As fate would have it, the Gators and the Tigers met on Friday the 13th. But Rowland says the No. 13 has always been lucky for her. And evidently, that luck transferred over to her team as the Gators topped the Tigers 197.825 to 197.200, improving Florida to 4-0 (1-0 SEC).

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Here are takeaways from Friday night's meet.

Star-studded matchup packs the stands

There are just six gymnasts in the country to have won Olympic or World Championships medals and also compete at the collegiate level. And four of them were under the roof of the O'Dome Friday night. Florida's Morgan Hurd (2017 World Gold, 2018 World Bronze), Kayla DiCello (2021 World Bronze), Leanne Wong (2021 World Bronze) and Auburn's Sunisa Lee (2022 Olympic Gold) are all part of the selective club.

"This arena was just filled with a lot of talent and a lot of big names," Rowland said. "I see a lot of big names, I see a lot of talent, but I just see a lot of young women with big hearts doing what they love to do."

And of course, Florida's Trinity Thomas brought eyes, too.

Friday night's all-SEC matchup was announced as a sellout crowd as Exactech Arena housed 9,676 eager fans − the third highest attendance total since the O'Connell Center's renovations in 2016.

"What an electrifying night in the O'Dome," Rowland said. "First and foremost, I have to give props to Gator Nation. We're so grateful for them coming and showing up for the Gators tonight."

Wong, Thomas notch perfect 10s

Friday night's post-meet press conference fielded a table of 10s as Rowland, who earned one perfect 10 in her college gymnastics career at Arizona State, was joined by Wong and Thomas, who each turned in 10s of their own against the Tigers.

And while many would have expected Thomas or Auburn's Lee to make the headlines, it was Wong who stole the show as she earned a 10 in the uneven bars, followed by a 10 on the beam.

"I've never had two 10s in one meet before," said Wong, who recorded a pair of 10s through the course of the entire season last year.

Meanwhile, Thomas missed the opportunity to match Wong's tandem of 10s by an eyelash, earning a 9.975 on the uneven bars.

Following Thomas' bars routine, the home crowd and Thomas' teammates threw all their fingers in the air, lobbying for a perfect mark.

When the first judge flashed a 10, the O'Dome erupted with cheers. But when the second judge awarded Thomas with a 9.95, bellowing boos bounced around the arena. On the floor, Rowland put her hand to her ear, egging on the crowd's displeasure.

"I think you take it with a grain of salt," Rowland said. "We know it's a subjective sport and we can only control so much ... and I may egg on a little bit here or there, but it's something we work on. It's how you react. It's how you handle yourself and how you're able to move on."

Fortunately for the Gators, Thomas didn't let the narrow miss get to her.

Thomas was the second-to-last athlete to take the floor Friday night. And though the Gators had already secured a comfortable lead, Thomas knew it wouldn't hurt to add some insurance.

And she did just that as she completed a flawless routine that no judge could turn their nose up to, good for the 23rd perfect mark of her college career.

Following Thomas and Wong's trio of 10s, the Gators turned in three 10s in one meet for the first time since Jan. 29, 2016.

Rowland all for Auburn, Florida rivalry

Rowland has a history with the Tigers.

Prior to arriving in Gainesville in 2015, Rowland served as an assistant coach at Auburn for five seasons. And ever since then, the Gators and Tigers have regularly competed in meets with a lot on the line.

Just last season, Florida and Auburn met in the regular season finale at Auburn's Neville Arena, where the Gators and Tigers tied with 198.575 points, giving Florida its fourth straight SEC title.

The Gators and Tigers went on to meet four more times - the SEC championships, NCAA Regionals, NCAA Semifinals and NCAA Team Finals.

"I'm down for any SEC rivalry," Rowland said. "I'm down for any great competition. It elevates the sport of gymnastics. So, game on. Let's go."