UF's Leanne Wong competes on the beam Friday against LSU at the O'Connell Center. [Azhalia Pottinger/WRUF]

Gators Gymnastics Pulls Off Home Upset Against LSU Tigers

The No. 5 Florida Gators gymnastics team upset No. 2 LSU 198.150-197.950 on Friday in front of a sold out crowd at Exactech Arena.

The Gators (10-1, 5-1 SEC) also claimed at least a share of the SEC regular-season title for coach Jenny Rowland, the program’s sixth consecutive:

Gators Strike First

Florida started strong on the vault with five scores at 9.900 or above.

Skylar Draser kicked off the meet for the Gators by posting a 9.775. Sloane Blakely and Victoria Nguyen followed with two big 9.900s. Anya Pilgrim built on her teammates’ momentum, adding a huge 9.950 to set her collegiate best. Leanne Wong finished rotation one with another 9.950.

On the bars, Alexis Jeffrey put the Tigers (7-3, 4-2) on the board with a 9.850 and a stuck dismount. Former Gator Savannah Schoenherr added a 9.850 before a rotation-high 9.925 from Haleigh Bryant to close out the first rotation.

After rotation one, the Gators had a .325 lead, 49.600-49.275.

 

UF’s Leanne Wong competes on the beam Friday against LSU at the O’Connell Center.
[Azhalia Pottinger/WRUF]

Tied After Two

Switching to the bars, Blakely stuck her dismount, posting a 9.875. Wong added a powerful 9.950. The crowd voiced its disappointment at her not receiving a 10.0.

Some slight wobbles in the middle of the bars lineup cost the Gators their early lead over the Tigers.

On the vault, KJ Johnson put up a 9.825 before near perfection from Amari Drayton (9.975). Kiya Johnson (9.950) and Bryant (9.925) closed out the rotation for LSU.

Halfway through, the score was tied at 98.825.

Tiger Perfection

For rotation three, LSU moved to the floor and Florida mounted the beam.

In the lead-off spot again, Draser added to the Gators’ score with a solid 9.875. Pilgrim was near perfection with a 9.975, her teammates surrounding her to celebrate.

A balance correction from Ellie Lazzari resulted in a 9.725, but Nguyen brought back the energy with a 9.950, setting her career best. In the anchor spot, Wong nailed her dismount, earning a 9.975. Yet again, the crowd voiced its disappointment.

Pilgrim noted that her favorite moment of the night was getting the same score as Wong on beam:

Meanwhile, the Tigers were lights out on the floor. Konnor McClain started off strong with a 9.900. KJ Johnson posted a 9.950 before perfection from Aleah Finnegan (10.0).

Kiya Johnson and Bryant finished the third rotation for LSU with two 9.950s.

With all scores at 9.900 or above, the Tigers surged ahead to take the lead 148.600-148.450 with one rotation left.

Wong Wins It

Sierra Ballard mounted the beam for LSU, posting a 9.825 before two 9.950s from McClain and Bryant. Finnegan closed out the night for the Tigers with a 9.800

Nguyen and Pilgrim started off the final rotation for the Gators with two 9.925s, both tying their collegiate bests. Kaylee Bluffstone also tied her career best, putting up a 9.875.

Rowland said she was proud of Bluffstone’s strong floor routine:

Blakely was electric, tumbling her way to a near-perfect 9.975. The crowd was certainly getting tired of the snubs.

Unfortunately, Payton Richards was unable to finish her routine due to an apparent injury. Assistant coach Owen Field carried Richards, in tears, off the floor.

Leanne Wong was the final performer and was perfection (10.0). The crowd went wild. It was the perfect way to end the night.

This was Wong’s first 10 on floor, marking her first gym slam (a 10 on every event). She is the 15th gymnast in collegiate history to earn this accolade. As if that weren’t enough, Wong also matched her collegiate best all-around score (39.875) and set the nation’s highest score this season.

She knew the team needed her score, so she just had to go out and do her job, Wong said:

Meanwhile, Pilgrim set her collegiate best all-around and beam score. She also set the nation’s highest freshman all-around score.

After a back-and-forth competition, the Gators pulled off the upset with a final score of 198.150-197.950.

Florida is the only team in the country to have improved its overall team score each week, doing so again while breaking into the 198s. The Gators also set their season best on three events (vault, beam, floor).

The Gators are on the road next week in Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats.

Event Titles

Vault – Amari Drayton (9.975)

Bars – Leanne Wong (9.950)

Beam – Pilgrim & Wong (9.975)

Floor – Finnegan & Wong (10.0)

All-around – Wong (39.875)

There were two 10.0s on the night (Wong, Finnegan).

About Scarlett Cooney

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

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