Florida gymnast Rachel Slocum salutes during her floor routine at the NCAA Gymnastics Regionals at the Exactech Arena in Gainesville.

Gators rally to win championship, berth at nationals

Pat Dooley Columnist
Saturday, April 01, 2017 10:31 PM

Back in the locker room during Florida’s bye session, Jenny Rowland watched her freshmen do the traditional dance routine that is a part of her NCAA Regional ritual.

“I have to say it was really good,” said freshman Amelia Hundley.

The Gators were pretty loose for a team that could see the end of its season Saturday. Florida trailed Georgia badly because UF had to count a terrible score (9.425) on the bars and led Missouri by only one/tenth of a point.

Because only the top two teams would advance to the NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Mo., you could say the Gators were in a bit of trouble.

But not really.

“I could tell back there (in the locker room) a weight had been lifted off their shoulders because of the beam,” Rowland said.

Florida had gone second on the beam and recorded a solid 98.20 score with no serious mistakes. Junior Alex McMurtry had even received a 10 from one of the four judges.

So when the Gators burst back out into their home arena, it wasn’t a nervous or tight group.

“We came out of the bye super excited,” McMurtry said. “We just had a blast on the floor and vault. It was the last time this season in front of our fans.”

Most of the 5,214 in attendance were not disappointed. The partisan Gator crowd had a blast of its own, helping the Gators rally to beat Georgia 197.125 to 196.755. Both teams will head to St. Louis in two weeks to compete for a national title.

“It’s something we’ve worked for all year,” Rowland said. “It’s really what this team is all about. From the first day of the season, I knew it would be a lot of fun. This team has just jelled.”

Florida trailed Georgia by .325 going into the final two routines. The season’s second-lowest bar score was the culprit as freshman Rachel Gowey had a fall and Alicia Boren made a point-reducing mistake.

Another fall on the bars and Florida would have been in serious trouble but Kennedy Baker, Amelia Hundley and McMurtry salvaged the score with strong performances.

“I’m usually pretty chill,” said Baker, who followed Gowey on the bars. “I was a little nervous that time.”

After the bye, Florida put up a 49.45 on the floor exercise, slowly reeling the Bulldogs in with every performance. The final three gymnasts -- McMurtry, Boren and Baker -- each recorded a 9.925 scores.

With the vault as their final apparatus, the Gators blew the meet wide open. The worst score was a 9.8 and the Gators finished with a 49.475, led by Rachel Slocum’s 9.95.

Baker and McMurtry each had 9.9s despite not getting a chance to warm up. That was just fine with Baker.

“We ran out of time,” she said. “That made me super excited to do vault because I didn’t have to waste one. I don't need it.”

Missouri finished third in the meet and ended its season as did Penn State, North Carolina and New Hampshire.

“Glad that’s over,” Rowland said. “Regionals are always a challenge.”

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.




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