To say that current freshmen at the University of Florida have had an unusual start to their college experience would be a vast understatement. For student-athletes, these changes from the norm are highlighted even more. However, one freshman gymnast for the Gators has navigated these circumstances, and put together a remarkable season while she’s been at it. Her name is Ellie Lazzari.
From Illinois to Gainesville
Born in Foshan, China, and adopted when she was 18-months-old, Lazzari grew up in Wheaton, Illinois. Her first gymnastics class was at the age of three, and she has loved it ever since. She began competing as a member of Legacy Elite Gymnastics, and her success at this level caught the eyes of colleges. After an illustrious junior career, she committed to the University of Florida.
“I was really young when I started getting interested in the school,” Lazzari said. “I was actually in middle school. I’ve always known that I wanted to come here, especially because of the amazing athletic program here at UF.“
“I just felt at home right when I stepped foot on campus.”- Freshman Ellie Lazzari
To jump-start her collegiate career, she decided to forgo her senior year of high school and come to Gainesville after her junior year. This was no easy task, though; Lazzari needed to take 13 credits in the spring of her junior year, almost twice as much as a normal student.
“It was very hard, very hard,” Lazzari said. “At some points I didn’t think I was going to make it just because I had so much course load to do in such a little amount of time. I had to graduate with the actual class in May, so I didn’t have time in the summer to do other schoolwork. It was definitely a grind but I just knew that it would all be worth in the end.”
Despite the challenges, the same work ethic that has helped her in the gym carried over to the classroom. Lazzari successfully graduated a year early and was able to travel to Florida in the fall of 2020. Head Coach Jenny Rowland is happy to have her.
“Ellie wanted to be a Gator,” Rowland said. “We are so thrilled that we wanted Ellie to be a Gator as well. We knew from her past history that she’s a great competitor; she thrives, she loves competing.”
While a foot injury slowed her entry into lineups of the team, Lazzari’s talent was evident from her first appearance as a Gator. In the opening meet of the season, at Auburn, Lazzari scored a 9.900 on the vault and a 9.950 on her beam routine.
“A lot of people have mentioned that she doesn’t compete like freshmen, which I’d have to completely agree with.”-Junior Savannah Schoenherr
This beam score set a new record for the highest score by a Florida Gator in their beam debut for the team. It was an exhibition meet, sure, but the freshman from Illinois was already making a name for herself.
“I think that having the team behind my back and cheering for me definitely helped,” Lazzari said. “There weren’t a lot of people there, but it did feel like there was a lot of energy.”
Since that meet, Lazzari’s role on the team has only magnified. She has begun to compete in the all-around, earning a career-high 9.900 on her floor exercise at the SEC Championship; she has done this while still staying strong on her self-proclaimed strongest event, the beam. Her National Qualifying Score, or NQS, on the beam of 9.965 is tied for fourth in the nation.
“I knew coming in that I had the potential to be an all–rounder for UF,” Lazzari said. “I just knew that each meet I would get better and I would progress and get more experience, so I think everything is just coming together.”
Greater Heights to Come
Her fellow teammates have also taken note of her development. Her consistent production at every meet has reassured her fellow gymnasts that no moment is too large for her.
“I think the biggest thing with her is no matter what the routine before her is like, whether it’s a perfect ten or someone makes a mistake, her routine is always going to be the same,” junior Savannah Schoenherr said. “She’s developed a lot throughout the season. She’s grown a lot and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Fresh off of a beam title share at the SEC Championship, Lazzari will hope to keep her momentum going at Regionals. As the team travels to Athens, Georgia, for the competition to send it to nationals, Lazzari will be an integral gymnast for the top-seeded team in the region. Not bad for a freshman.
“I want to be the person who everyone can count on, and to keep pushing myself to be the best that I can be for this team,” Lazzari said. “I know that I can make a big difference, and I just love this team so much; I’ll do anything for them.“