After placing top-two at the NCAA Pittsburgh Regional final on Sunday, Gators Gymnastics will advance to the NCAA Championships in the Lone Star State.
— Gators Gymnastics (@GatorsGym) April 2, 2023
It marks the Gators’ 39th appearance in the 41-year history of nationals.
“We live to dance to the great eight,” Florida head coach Jenny Rowland said.
Gators Gymnastics at the Pittsburgh Regional Final
The Gators faced three top-15 ranked opponents Sunday and finished runner-up to clinch their spot at the NCAA Championships. No. 7 California (198.075) edged out No. 2 Florida (197.8), while No. 10 Michigan State (197.65) and No. 15 Arizona State (197.475) went home empty-handed.
Gator sophomore Leanne Wong led all gymnasts with an all-around score of 39.775 after the Kansas native posted a pair of near-perfect 10s in the bars and the beam (9.975). Florida senior Payton Richards tied Arizona State junior Anaya Smith for the highest overall score on the vault (9.950).
Graduate student Trinity Thomas — the defending NCAA all-around champion — missed Sunday’s meet due to a lower-leg injury she suffered during her floor routine in the second round of the Pittsburgh Regional Friday.
After Friday’s meet, Rowland explained why she was “thankful” to see Thomas abruptly halt her routine rather than risking further injury.
“There comes a time where our athletes have to trust what’s going on,” Rowland said. “I’m really grateful and thankful that [Thomas] didn’t try to be a superhero and continue and finish.”
— Abby Schnable (@AbbySchnable) April 1, 2023
Richard explained how the Gators were able to rally behind Thomas’ injury and succeed with her on the sideline.
“A lot of people just put a lot of pressure on [Thomas], and there was just never a doubt in my mind that we couldn’t be successful today without her, and she honestly has instilled that into us,” Richard said. “Whether Trin[ity] is competing or on the side, she makes the biggest difference.”
Although her status uncertain, Rowland is hopeful that Thomas can return for nationals.
“[Thomas’] mindset is strong, she is all in,” Rowland said. “All I can say is if anyone can do it, we have full confidence and full faith that Trinity will be fine.”
Gators Gymnastics at the NCAA Championships
In addition to No. 7 California, Florida will face two top-15 ranked teams — No. 6 LSU and No. 14 Denver — in the first semifinal. The Gators lost a nail-biter to LSU on the road in February — snapping a 27-conference-dual-meet win streak — before they bounced back with a meet-record team score (198.425) to win the SEC Championship.
The second semifinal will feature No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 UCLA, No. 5 Utah and No. 9 Kentucky. At last year’s NCAA Championships, Florida (198.0875) finished runner-up behind Oklahoma (198.2). The Sooners hosted the Gators last month and won by just 0.25 points. Florida hasn’t faced UCLA or Utah this year but defeated Kentucky in its final home meet.
The semifinals are set to begin at 3 p.m. on April 13 and will air on ESPN2. ABC is scheduled to air the final at 4 p.m. on April 15. Florida will start its semifinal on the bars.