Trinity Thomas during the Gators' meet against the Auburn Tigers on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Maddie Washburn)

Gators Gymnastics Advances to NCAA Final

The Florida Gator gymnastics squad will advance to the NCAA Championships team final on Saturday after a top-two finish at the semifinal. The LSU Tigers took the gold (197.4750) while the Gators claimed second with a 197.4000.

Trinity’s Triumphant Return

To kick off the afternoon meet the Gators took the uneven bars, Denver started on the vault, LSU mounted the beam, and California took the floor.

Florida started off a little shaky after an uncharacteristic fall from the bars from sophomore Sloane Blakely (9.2375). Victoria Nguyen followed Blakely with a 9.8250, before a 9.8750 from Kayla DiCello.

Trinity Thomas’ long-awaited return came on bars as she posted a powerful 9.950 in her first meet since getting injured in the Pittsburgh regional. She seemed to hold back tears after she perfectly stuck her landing.

Leanne Wong added a 9.9375 before Riley McCusker closed out the rotation for the Gators with a 9.9000.

On the vault, Mila Brusch put up a 9.8500 to put Denver on the board. Bella Mabanta added a 9.7875 to follow Brusch. Jessica Hutchinson posted a 9.8375 before a beautifully stuck landing from Lynnzee Brown (9.9250). Alexandria Ruiz (9.8250) and Rosie Casali (9.6375) finished the rotation for Denver.

LSU’s Elena Arenas started on the beam for the Tigers, posting a 9.7375. Alyona Shchennikova put up a 9.7750 before two scores above a 9.800 from Alexis Jeffrey and Sierra Ballard. Haleigh Bryant (9.9375) and Aleah Finnegan (9.9125) closed out the first rotation for LSU.

Nevaeh DeSouza kicked it off for California with a 9.8375 before a 9.7625 from Gabby Perea. A 9.8500 from Madelyn Williams and a 9.8750 from Andi Li added to Cal’s score. Mya Lauzon and eMjae Frazier both posted a strong 9.9375 to finish the rotation.

At the end of the first rotation, the Gators led 49.4875, ahead of California (49.4375), LSU (49.2750) and Denver (49.2250).

Gators Drop the Lead

The second rotation saw Florida mount the beam, LSU take the floor, California the vault, and Denver the bars.

The Gators kicked it off again with Blakely (9.9375) chasing redemption after her fall on bars. Ellie Lazzari followed with a 9.8125 before SEC Freshman of the Year Kayla DiCello took the beam (9.925).

Wong posted a 9.800 before McCusker (9.6126) and Payton Richards (9.2750) closed out the rotation for Florida with unusually low scores.

Ballard started on floor for LSU with a 9.800 followed by a 9.8875 from Shchennikova. Chase Brock put up a 9.000 after a fall at the end of one of her tumbling passes. KJ Johnson added to the Tigers’ score with a 9.8750.

Finnegan posted a huge 9.9625 followed by a 9.9500 from Bryant to finish the rotation.

California’s Li put up a 9.8250 before a 9.8625 from Williams to add to the Bears’ score. Casey Brown, DeSouza, Lauzon and Frazier all put up scores above 9.800s for California’s vault rotation.

On the bars, Denver had only one score below a 9.800. Other than a 9.7750 from Cecilia Cooley, Denver only had scores above a 9.800, with a high score of 9.9125 from Kiley Rorich.

Two rotations in California took the lead with a 98.7875 over LSU (98.7500), Denver (98.5875) and the Gators in fourth (99.5750).

Bouncing Back to the Top

For the third rotation, the Gators took the floor, LSU was on vault, Denver mounted the beam and California took the bars.

LSU’s Arenas put up a 9.8250 before a 9.8375 from Shchennikova. Finnegan and Brock posted identical 9.8500s followed by two 9.8625s from Bryant and Bryce Wilson.

Nguyen started the third rotation for Florida with a 9.9000 followed by Blakely’s 9.8500. Rachel Baumann added a 9.8375 before a strong 9.9250 from Richards.

Wong put up a near-perfect 9.9625 to increase the Gators’ score. DiCello finished the rotation with a 9.8875.

DeSouza kicked off the rotation with a 9.8750 for California before a 9.7875 from Frazier. A fall from Perea resulted in an 8.9875. Li followed with a solid 9.900 and a 9.8750 from Williams. Another fall, this time from Ella Cesario, caused a low 9.2625.

Denver’s Lynnzee Brown added a 9.9125 to boost the Pioneers’ score. Two falls from the beam (Mabanta, Momoko Iwai) resulted in very low scores for Denver. Callie Schlottman and Abbie Thompson put up two scores above a 9.8000 in an attempt to save the rotation. Hutchinson posted a 9.9250 to finish the rotation.

After three rotations, Florida took back the lead (148.1000) over LSU (148.0125), California (147.4875) and Denver (147.1375).

Can Florida Hold On?

For the fourth and final rotation of the afternoon the Gators took the vault, LSU was on bars, California mounted the beam and Denver took the floor.

Wong kicked off the final rotation for Florida with a 9.8625 before a 9.8625 from Richards. A 9.8000 was Blakely’s score, followed by DiCello’s 9.8125.

Trinity Thomas was added into the Gators’ vault lineup, posting a 9.900. Last in the rotation, Nguyen added a 9.8625 to Florida’s score.

On the bars, LSU’s Alexis Jeffrey put up a 9.7750, setting up two 9.8750s from Ashley Cowan and Tori Tatum. Finnegan posted a big 9.9250 before a 9.8625 from Shchennikova. Bryant closed out the rotation for the Tigers with a 9.9375.

California’s DeSouza and Li added two 9.8500s, in addition to a strong 9.9250 from Williams. Frazier posted another 9.8500. The rest of California’s lineup put up 9.850s and above.

Iwai redeemed herself on floor, posting a 9.8500 before near-perfect 9.9500s from Hutchinson and Brown. Casali (9.7875) and Thompson (9.8250) finished the rotation for Denver.

At the end of the final rotation, LSU took the gold with a 197.4750 followed by Florida (197.4000), California (196.9125) and Denver (196.5000).

Needing a top-two finish, Florida and LSU will advance to the NCAA Championship Final on Saturday. They will face the top-two position holders from the second session of the semifinals.

Event Titles

There were no perfect 10.0s. Lynnzee Brown and Courtney Blackson, an individual athlete from BSU, claimed the vault title (9.9250). Trinity Thomas took the bars with a 9.9500. Chloe Widner, an individual athlete from Stanford took the beam (9.9500). Leanne Wong and Aleah Finnegan tied for the floor title (9.9625). Haleigh Bryant took the all-around title (39.6875).

About Scarlett Cooney

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

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