The number one ranked Florida gymnastics team sealed a perfect regular season, and the SEC regular season title, with their victory in Tuscaloosa over the Crimson Tide on March 5. Now, two weeks and a day later, the team returns to Alabama, this time in Huntsville, to compete in their first postseason meet of 2021; the SEC Championship. While Florida enters the meet as the favorites to win the title, a lingering injury to junior Trinity Thomas could put a damper on things.
Change of Environment
The SEC Championship offers a change of pace from the regular season in a couple of ways; for one, there are no dual meets. Instead of two teams battling it out for a victory, every program in the conference will compete on the same day. The bottom four teams in the conference will start performing at 3:30 EST, and the top four teams (including Florida) will begin at 8:00 EST. Just like a dual meet, one team will be announced as the winner, and each event will be awarded a champion as well.
“They love to ham it up, and they love to show off what they’ve been working so hard on.”-Gator head coach Jenny Rowland
Another difference that the meet in Huntsville will have are the podiums the gymnasts will compete on. Instead of hitting the harsh floor on landings, podiums offer the gymnasts a lighter, bouncier surface that is easier on their bodies. These podiums also raise the level of the gymnasts while performing, which could enhance nerves for some athletes; for this team, though, it is just seen as an opportunity to perform.
“The excitement is elevated times five being on podium,” Rowland said. “I think that’s the biggest difference for this team, that they love competing on podium. “We have so many returners who have competed on podium.”
While Rowland and her team continues their season-long mantra of practicing the same way, regardless of the meet, the team could potentially perform without the full workload for one of it’s stars. After suffering a leg injury in the warmups to the meet against Alabama, Thomas has been sidelined. Rowland has offered updates on the 10 time All-American’s health, but she has not guaranteed a full four-event night for the Thomas.
“Trin’s doing okay,” Rowland said. “She is making baby steps every day. I don’t foresee her doing everything this weekend. Regardless, I know she’s got the team’s back, and the team has her back.”
The Gators will have one day of practice in Huntsville before the Championship begins, so the team still has time to determine how much they will use Thomas. With regionals looming ahead, Thomas may be hesitant to potentially risk furthering the injury this weekend.
Hungry for Revenge
“It’s something that will always be ingrained in me forever.”- Junior Nya Reed on the loss to LSU in the 2019 SEC Championship
COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 SEC Championship; this one will be the first since the 2019 championship in New Orleans. Despite great individual performances, such as shares of event titles for four Gators, the meet was an disappointment for Florida. Rowland’s team finished in second place behind the LSU Tigers, who won their third SEC title in a row; the .150 gap between the two teams in 2019 has served as fuel for the Gators’ motivation ever since.
“My freshman year was a great year in regular season,” Reed said. “Then we got to postseason, and it just kind of was really heartbreaking. I think that’s something a lot of us upperclassmen today just take with us and carry with us.”
Where to Watch
The SEC Championship will be aired all day on the SEC Network. Florida will begin in the second session, which starts at 8pm. The team will begin on the vault.