Gymnastics to open conference play at No. 2 Florida 

Robert Cortez | @robertcortez27, Assistant Sports Editor

Two of the SEC’s most decorated programs — No. 2 Florida and No. 11 Alabama — will begin conference play on Sunday in the first regular-season gymnastics meet to air on a broadcast network, ABC.

“I think that it is a huge statement for our sport,” head coach Dana Duckworth said. “It continues to allow our sport to grow, gaining more recognition, and give more women opportunity to shine out of the bright lights.” 

Opening weekend recaps 

Alabama and Florida are coming off two polar opposite season-opening meets. 

Florida won its quad meet with a score of 197.675, which was the second-highest score on opening weekend, just behind No. 1 Michigan’s 197.750. 

Alabama dropped its road contest to last season’s national runner-up, No. 3 Oklahoma. The Crimson Tide’s score of 195.875 in Norman, Oklahoma, caused the program to fall five spots in the rankings

“They [gymnasts] know they had an opportunity to go out there and perform better than what they did,” Duckworth said on the “Dana Duckworth Show.” “We’re using that as fuel in our preparation for this week.”

Two of the SEC’s top performances from opening weekend wear orange and blue. Florida’s graduate student Alyssa Baumann was named the SEC Specialist of the Week and freshman Sloane Blakely was named the SEC Gymnast of the Week. 

Baumann scored a 9.925 on the balance beam and was tied for the opening weekend’s highest score on the floor exercise with a 9.975. Blakely won the all-around with a 39.450 and put together a 9.950 on the balance beam. 

While the pair shined on opening weekend, Crimson Tide star and graduate student Lexi Graber had a concerning one. Graber limped after completing her routine on the floor exercise and was later scratched from the balance beam lineup due to an awkward turn that “bit her” during warm-ups. However, all is well for Graber heading into this weekend.

“She’s doing great, and she is fired up for this weekend,” Duckworth said. “I’m taking things slow because I want to keep everybody as healthy as possible throughout the entire season.”

Junior Mati Waligora’s 9.925 on the balance beam was the only Alabama routine to score above a 9.900. On the contrary, Florida posted at least two scores of 9.900 or better on three of the four events, excluding the uneven bars. 


Florida has gotten the better end of the stick against Alabama lately. The Crimson Tide have beaten the Gators twice in their last 10 matchups, which include both head-to-head and multiteam meets. 

Wins on the road in head-to-head matchups against Florida have been even more scarce for Alabama. The last time Alabama claimed a head-to-head win in Gainesville, Florida, was Jan. 19, 2001 — before many of the freshman and sophomore gymnasts were born.

While some may be focused on whether Alabama leaves with a win or a loss, Waligora is looking at the bigger picture.

“I don’t necessarily feel like it’s about the win,” Waligora said. “I think it’s more about just proving what we do every day and being confident out there competing against them.”

Going to Gainesville

A highly touted matchup against conference rivals can cause jitters and pressure to perform well, especially when the meet is televised. Waligora said the key for the Gators to have a good performance is to trust in their abilities and training. 

“I think a big thing that we’re focusing on is really trusting our training,” Waligora said. “We’re putting in a lot of work in the gym, and I think we just really need to trust what we’re doing in the gym, trust what the coaches are having us do moving forward into this next week.”

The meet is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 16, at 2 p.m. CT on ABC.