Heading into the University of Florida gymnastics' home meet against the eighth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, the Gators had destiny at their fingertips. With a second consecutive regular season SEC Championship up for grabs, head coach Jenny Rowland knew exactly what her team needed to hear.
"I laid it all out on the table," Rowland said after UF's victory in front of a sellout crowd in Gainesville. "Here's an opportunity. What are you going to do with it? That's what we focused on."
What did the No. 2-ranked UF gymnastics team do with that opportunity? They posted the fifth-highest score nationally this season in a 198.050-197.450 victory. Alyssa Baumann's 9.975 floor routine had everyone inside Exactech Arena on their feet, All-American Trinity Thomas won the all-around title for the sixth time this year, and Florida pushed its record to 8-0 -- UF already beat Arkansas, Missouri, LSU, Kentucky and Auburn in conference play -- with three regular season meets still to go.
Florida Wins 2nd Straight SEC Gymnastics Championship
"If this team has anything, it's heart and fight. That's what we're going to do until the end. There's dips, there's highs and there's lows, but we're fighting. I think that came out tonight. We're still fighting and we still have a long way to go. I think we're ready for it."
-- UF senior Amelia Hundley
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Despite Alabama gymnasts winning two events -- Lexi Graber won vault (9.975) and Makarri Doggette claimed uneven bars (9.950) -- UF senior Sierra Alexander posted a career-high 9.950 on vault, and sophomore Leah Clapper capped UF's rotation on balance beam with a career-high 9.975 to win the event. Alyssa Baumann's stellar floor exercise was the event's highest score and sealed the deal for the Gators on "Link to Pink" night.
Gator freshman Payton Richards (39.425) finished third in the all-around.
The Florida Gators travels to face the Georgia Bulldogs on Rivalry Week to end February, then have two more meets against Penn State and Texas Woman's University before the Southeastern Conference Championships begin on March 21 in Duluth, Georgia.
After that, a run through the NCAA Regionals and chance to capture the NCAA Championship in Fort Worth, Texas looms for the back-to-back regular season SEC title holders.
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