Florida claimed its 12th conference gymnastics title Saturday night as the SEC championship meet returned to Duluth for the first time in eight years.
The Gators won their second consecutive title against eight of the country’s top-20 Division I gymnastics programs.
Perfect 10s on bars and floor from Florida’s Trinity Thomas helped the Gators top the competitive conference field. Thomas’ floor routine clinched the win in the fourth rotation. Thomas also placed first in the all-around for the second year in a row.
With her two perfect 10s, the 2022 NCAA all-around champion moved within one 10 of tying the all-time NCAA career record of 28.
Florida’s score of 198.425 also set an SEC championship record. Coach Kelly Rowland said the team focused on “normentum” as its word for the week — “being normal and moving forward with momentum.”
“I’m so proud of this team. This is exactly what we’ve been working for, and the best part is, we’re not done yet,” Thomas said.
Entering Saturday’s meet, the SEC was the only conference with all its gymnastics programs ranked in the top 20 nationally, and the conference with the most top-20 teams. The competition, split into an afternoon Session I with the four lower-seeded teams and an evening Session I with the higher four seeds, also saw four top-10 teams go head-to-head in Session II.
“You’re competing with the best of the best,” said Alabama freshman Gabby Gladieux, whose vault score of 9.950 tied for first with Florida’s Sloane Blakely. “These are the best gymnasts in the world, in my opinion, and so I think it’s a privilege, it really is, to be on the same floor, competing in the same arena as them.”
Behind Florida’s SEC-championship-record score of 198.425, fourth-seeded Alabama placed second with 197.925.
“I think we just focused on meeting the moment and going big, not having any regrets at the end of this,” said Gabby.
Louisiana State placed third, at 197.800, after a season riddled with team injuries. Kentucky, Auburn, Missouri, Arkansas and Georgia filled out the rest of the standings. Teams’ performances will count as regular-season away scores in their National Qualifying Score rankings, which will be used to seed teams in NCAA Regionals.
“I definitely think we have more in the tank,” said Florida’s Leanne Wong, the meet’s beam winner with a meet-record score of 9.975. “Although it was our highest score this season, I think there’s more, and we just need to let loose and have fun.”
NCAA postseason seedings were announced Monday, and Florida earned the No. 2 national seed.
In the all-around, behind Thomas’ 39.800, Alabama’s Luisa Blanco claimed second, at 39.675. Auburn’s Cassie Stevens, Florida’s Leanne Wong and LSU’s Aleah Finnegan rounded out the top five for the all-around.
During the meet, fans of each program filled into a single section of Gas South Arena’s bowl, erupting out of their seats and waving pom poms with each stuck landing. Florida’s section was the most filled-out of any visiting team; Georgia fans were interspersed throughout the arena in Session I.
“We could hear them the whole time,” Thomas said. “Our team is a high-energy team, so to have that kind of atmosphere is incredible, and they brought the energy for sure.”
Auburn led the afternoon’s Session I, which began at 3:30 p.m. A 9.875 floor performance from Auburn’s Derrian Gobourne pushed the Tigers past Missouri by 0.100 to end the session.
Reigning Olympic gold medalist in the all-around Sunisa Lee, competing in her second season for Auburn, did not compete on Saturday after missing the Tigers’ previous two meets due to a “non-gymnastics injury,” per a team press release. Lee was on the Gas South Arena floor supporting her teammates but dressed in street clothes.
From 2004-2015, no more than three years went by without Duluth hosting the conference championship meet. The SEC championship was originally set for Gas South Arena in 2020, but the COVID-19 lockdowns canceled the meet and skipped Duluth’s semi-regular turn in the rotation.
On Saturday, 9,544 fans were treated to the return of SEC championship gymnastics to Gas South Arena, witnessing Thomas’ journey to rewrite the record books in a historic Florida performance.
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