Florida finishes second behind LSU

Florida gymnast Alex McMurtry performs on the beam during a meet.

[Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]
Published: Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 10:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 10:07 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE — The Florida Gators had the drive and experience, but LSU had the nation’s No. 1 gymnast on vault in senior Ashleigh Gnat.

On Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Arena, No. 4 Florida came up short of LSU, 198.075-197.825, as the Tigers claimed their first SEC Championship since 1981.

“There was so much good tonight. We have to take a step back and go ‘Wow’. It was an awesome night,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “Yes, there’s always room for improvement, but I guess that fuels the fire a little bit. We’re going to get back and keep working hard.”

Featuring four of the nation’s top-10 teams, the No. 2-seed Gators arrived looking to claim their second consecutive SEC Championship.

But the No. 1-seed Tigers, who claimed the regular-season title after finishing the season undefeated, seemed to have the momentum from the opening vault.

Gnat, who entered the day with 18 event wins on the season, proceeded to earn a perfect 10 for the Tigers on vault.

“I was just focusing on being able to contribute to the team,” Gnat said. “Being able to get a 10 is such an honor for us and our team, however I thought it was more of a great way to set off the meet.”

Alex McMurtry claimed the all-around title for the first time in her career with a 39.700, including 9.950s on vault and floor. The junior entered the day ranked No. 2 nationally to Gnat on vault, but her 9.950 in UF’s final performance of the night wasn’t enough to make up the deficit.

Sophomore Alicia Boren finished with an all-around score of 39.475, including a 9.925 on floor for the eighth time in her last nine floor rotations.

“I thought we did a really good job, we’re really improving on cleaning up all the little things here and there,” Boren said. “I think we can definitely improve even more.”

After suffering a sprained ankle against Alabama on Feb. 3, junior Kennedy Baker had been competing in two events per meet rather than all-around competition. But that changed Saturday, as Baker’s all-around 39.650 would finish second overall to McMurtry.

“We were this close to winning, and we had mess-ups,” McMurtry said. “I think that we’re definitely ready to get back and work on the little stuff.”

Freshman Amelia Hundley earned an all-around 39.450 to secure a place on the All-SEC team, while Rachel Gowey joined Hundley on the SEC All-Freshman team.

The Gators will have two weeks to regroup before returning to the O’Connell Center on April 1 to host one of six NCAA Regionals.

Despite the loss, Rowland said she was encouraged by the team’s potential heading into the NCAA Championships.

“You want to go home with that trophy, but this stokes the fire,” Rowland said. “I know this team is going to go back in and raise it up another notch.

“It was our best meet so far this year. And this was the goal, to peak at the postseason. And I think we’ve started that process.”

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