The Florida Gators Gymnastics team has been through it all this season; from injuries, COVID scares and a disappointing performance at the SEC Championship, adversity has never been far from these Gators. Thankfully for the team, none of that matters now. The NCAA Nationals in Ft. Worth, Texas, will be do-or-die time for Florida.
“This team is preparing just like an exam.”-Head Coach Jenny Rowland
Despite a rocky start at the Regional Final in Athens, junior Nya Reeds’ 9.950 on the floor clinched a first-place finish and a ticket to Nationals. Now, in the final weekend of the season, the Gators will fight for the programs’ first national title since 2015.
Potentially the biggest storyline for Florida going into Ft. Worth will be health. On Easter Sunday, the day after the Gators finished off the Regional Final, junior Sydney Johnson-Scharpf announced on her Instagram that she had suffered a ruptured Achilles in warmups on April 3. Johnson-Scharpf had just been rotating back into the lineup after earlier injuries, and the gymnast had competed on the floor lineup in the Regional Semifinal. The injury will be a blow to the Gators’ top-ranked floor lineup, and it will test Florida’s depth.
“We always talk about how you can’t replace the person, but you can replace the score,” senior Megan Skaggs said. “Of course [Johnson-Scharpf has] been a strong player for us on beam and floor, but we have depth on this team. Everybody needs to step up if we’re going to make it happen this year, so it’s a good opportunity for all of us”
Another Gator that has been impacted by injuries is junior Trinity Thomas. Since her ankle injury in Tuscaloosa on March 5, the five-time All-American has made progress towards making a full reentry to the all around. After competing on the bars in Athens, coach Rowland is hoping to see her in full at Nationals.
“Trin’ actually has been training all four events, so we’re going to test it out” Rowland said. “She’s in control, and pretty much navigating what she feels comfortable doing. If she says, ‘I’m ready to go,’ then it is something that we have the utmost faith and confidence in her.”
A Tough Weekend Ahead
Despite entering the competition as the highest-overall seed, the Gators will need to rise to the peak of their powers if they want to bring home a title. Florida’s score at the Regional Final, 197.700, was just the sixth-highest score across the nation from that weekend. Oklahoma, Michigan, Utah, Cal. Berkeley and LSU all produced higher scores. With the stakes as high as possible, the pressure is on.
“We’ve been training like we’re the underdogs.”-junior Savannah Schoenherr
“Really, it’s anybody’s game,” Rowland said. “Just looking across the board at these top eight teams in the country, it’s phenomenal; the level, the execution, everything overall.”
Not only will the teams be difficult to compete against, the workload of Nationals will not do Florida any favors. Just like at Regionals, the Gators will compete in two meets in two days. While the team has experience in these conditions, that experience does not help the team recover.
“It’s definitely not easy on the body, especially having a practice day and then two competition days in a row” junior Savannah Schoenherr said. “A lot of us are just going to be taking it easy on practice day, just getting a feel for the equipment and not really trying to overdo it.
Entering the Home Stretch
“I have believed in us since we started back in August.”-Senior Megan Skaggs
On the season, Florida has competed in a total of 44 rotations and 11 meets over the span of 15 weeks. Now, as the team enters the biggest weekend of the season, and the one that will crown a national champion, the team has the same confidence that has carried it all year long.
“To finally be here just shows that we are so strong,” Skaggs said. “I think we’re all really proud of what we’ve done this far, and we have that fire within us to just keep it going and take it one step further.”
The team has described this season as a “two-year journey” throughout the year. After the abrupt ending of the 2020 season, that unfinished business and lost season has been the fuel for the Gators all year. With the end of the journey in sight, Florida needs to rise to the occasion to claim the title it has been chasing for the past five years.
“I get goosebumps just thinking about it [Nationals],” Rowland said. “This team has been through so much together, turned so many obstacles into opportunities which they have now prepared themselves for a chance to win a National Championship. That’s what this team set forth to do two years ago, and it actually gets to come to fruition this weekend.”
Where to Watch
Florida will compete in the first session of the National Semifinal on Friday, April 16, at 1:00 p.m. This event, as well as the second session at 6:00 p.m., can be watched on ESPN2. If the Gators can advance, they will compete in the National Finals on Saturday, April 17, at 3:30 p.m. The final will be aired on ABC.