Gators Gymnastics Claims SEC Title in Win Over Kentucky

The Florida gymnastics squad was victorious Friday night in a 198.150-197.575 win over the Kentucky Wildcats. The Gators claimed their fifth consecutive SEC regular-season title with the win as they hosted Senior Night.

Gators Strike First

The Gators started the night on the vault, while the Wildcats began on the uneven bars. 

Payton Richards started off for Florida with a 9.750, followed by a season high vault from Leanne Wong (9.925). The last three Gators posted 9.800s and above to close out the first rotation (Sloane Blakely, Kayla DiCello, Trinity Thomas, Chloi Clark).

On the bars, Kentucky’s Hailey Davis posted a 9.825 to put the Wildcats on the board. Teammates Bailey Bunn and Annie Reigert followed, each posting 9.800s and above. A fall from Kaitlin DeGuzman (8.850) set the Wildcats back. 

Shealyn Luksik (9.900) and Raena Worley (9.825) finished up for Kentucky.

At the end of the first rotation, the Gators led the Wildcats 49.300-49.200. 

Perfection…Almost

The second rotation began with Florida on the bars and Kentucky on the vault.  The Gators extended their lead with a 9.925 from Blakely and a 9.875 from Victoria Nguyen

Florida saw three near perfect 9.975s in a row from DiCello, Thomas and Wong. The crowd roared in discontent for what they felt should have been three perfect 10.0s.

Riley McCusker finished strong for the Gators with a career high 9.950.

After a misstep from Kentucky’s Makenzie Wilson (9.625), the Wildcats put up some strong numbers. Arianna Patterson posted a 9.925, followed by two 9.950s from Isabella Magnelli and Raena Worley. Bridget Bourque wrapped up for Kentucky with a 9.825.

Halfway through the meet, the Gators extended their lead 99.100-98.675. Florida’s bar score (49.800) is the nation’s best team score on any event this season.

Halfway Through

To begin the third rotation, Florida mounted the balance beam as Kentucky took the floor.  With a stuck landing, Sloane Blakely started strong for the Gators, posting a 9.875. Blakely was followed by Payton Richards (9.775) and Ellie Lazzari (9.875). 

DiCello posted a big 9.925 for Florida, before Thomas and Wong took the beam. The graduate student put up a 9.900 before a 9.875 from Wong.

Over on the floor, Mackenzie Wilson put up a 9.825 to start the Wildcats off. Kentucky continued to build momentum, with 9.850s and above from their remaining gymnasts (Raina Albores, Patterson, Magnelli, Davis, Worley).

With one rotation left, Florida led the Wildcats 148.550-148.175.

Holding on for the Finish

Taking the floor, the Gators began their last rotation of the season in the Exatech Arena. 

Nguyen added a 9.900 to Florida’s score, followed by the same from Rachel Baumann. Continuing to push the Gators ahead, Payton Richards posted a 9.925 to tie her career high.

A small step out of bounds from Sloane Blakely caused a 9.825 before a near perfect 9.975 from Thomas. Thomas finished her last performance in the Exactech Arena with tears in her eyes. She noted that she was full of emotions the entire night.

DiCello wrapped up the night for the Gators with a 9.900.

On the beam, Shaelyn Luksik posted a 9.825. Teammates Reigert and Bunn followed with a 9.750 and a 9.875, respectively. The Wildcats finished strong with 9.875s and above from their three remaining gymnasts (Patterson, Worley, Magnelli).

Despite their efforts, Kentucky was not able to overcome the deficit, falling to the Gators 198.150-197.575. With this win, Florida claimed its fifth consecutive SEC regular-season title. 

Event Titles

There were no 10.0s on the night. Kentucky’s Isabella Magnelli and Raena Worley tied for the vault title (9.950). Florida’s Kayla DiCello, Trinity Thomas and Leanne Wong tied for the bars (9.975).  The beam went to Dicello and Worley (9.925). Trinity Thomas claimed the floor exercise (9.975) and the all-around title (39.700).

Senior Night Ceremony

After the event titles were presented, a special ceremony for the seniors began. Highlight videos were played for each of the seniors, as tears and hugs could be found all over the floor. Leah Clapper, Savannah Schoenherr, Halley Taylor, Trinity Thomas, Rachel Baumann and Payton Richards were all honored for their contributions to the program.

Florida head coach Jenny Rowland commented on the impact the seniors have had on the squad over the years.

What’s Next?

The Gators will travel to Norman, Oklahoma, next week to take on the number one ranked Oklahoma Sooners. The meet is set for 9 p.m.

About Scarlett Cooney

Scarlett Cooney is a third-year journalism student specializing in sports and media.

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