Dooley’s Dozen: 12 things to get Gators gymnastics over the hump in 2023

Coaching records in gymnastics are a funny thing. Because the sport is so focused on the postseason, it is rare when fans even know what the overall record is going into a big meet.

For example, I give you Florida coach Jenny Rowland.

She stepped into big shoes when she was hired to replace three-time national champion Rhonda Faehn. And when it comes to winning percentages, her 83.7 percent in seven seasons is better than Faehn’s during her time at UF.

Of course, you win an SEC championship, and it counts as multiple wins. Just a quad meet – which Florida has Friday night to start the season – likely will count as a 3-0 beginning.

Rowland has come close to winning Florida’s fourth national title, losing to Oklahoma by .1125 a year ago and missing out with an undefeated team because of COVID.

This might be her best team and starts the season ranked second… behind Oklahoma.

What does this team have to do to get over the hump? Dooley’s Dozen looks at 12 things that would help.

Duh, stay healthy

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Yeah, of course. If you are a fan of the sport, you know that there are a lot of routines where cheering only happens after you have held your breath during a back handspring on the beam or a risky series of moves on the floor.

That’s the thing with gymnastics – you can’t stop being aggressive. And yet, the threat of injury is always there. Gymnasts have an expression for the bumps and bruises they get missing on the beam: “beam bites”.

Those heal, but staying healthy as the season goes on is huge. Trinity Thomas never fully healed from ankle problems two years ago and it showed at the end.

Build on the season

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You can’t win the NCAA title in Week One. For that matter, you can’t win it in Week 10. But the goal is to get a little better every week.

You may be looking for something special from this team early, but if Leanne Wong is good but not great in the opening meet, that’s fine. It is literally a one-brick-at-a-time world in gymnastics.

Get the best from the best

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And her name is Thomas, Trinity. Her decision to come back for a Super Senior year was not a surprise, but certainly gives Florida a chance.

She is in the argument for the best Florida gymnast ever and it’s not like she’s coming back to be average. This could be a very special year for a very special athlete. She won the NCAA all-around last year and a repeat would make the Gators very happy.

Embrace the grind

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It’s a long season, especially when you factor in the work that leads up to it. You were eating Thanksgiving leftovers and this team was working. You were watching bowl games and this team was working. And that’s before the grind really starts.

“I have a lot of respect for the gymnasts who came back and returned for another year because they are ready to endure the season,” Rowland said.

It IS a grind. It just looks easy because gymnastics at this level is so elegant.

Win on the road

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No matter what the sport, we all know that you find out a lot about your team when it performs outside the friendly confines. Florida faces four teams on the road that are in the preseason top 20.

Oh, and one of them is at Oklahoma, preseason No. 1.

Gymnastics meets are loud. They are louder when the teams are elite.

Those meets will go a long way toward finalizing UF’s scores and those scores affect where they are going and how difficult the opponents are at regionals.

Pace yourselves

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The first meet will not and certainly should not be the Gators at their best. It’s a gradual process in terms of putting different tricks into routines.

You only know there will be a Gator Chomp from every Florida gymnast during the first night of floor routines, but it is always interesting to see how a vault or beam or anything evolves over the course of the season.

And nobody is allowed to be disappointed when Thomas does not do the all-around early in the season.

Keep the eye of the Tiger

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It is a long season after a long training period. The season starts Friday night in Gainesville and ends in the middle of April in Fort Worth.

That’s a lot of tumbling.

But you can’t let the mind wander. That’s when injuries happen and it’s when a physical slip turns into a mental issue. Stay focused. Now, I’m sounding like a coach.

As Jenny likes to say, be normal

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Not Jenny my daughter because she knows I can’t be normal. But Jenny Rowland the coach likes to say it a lot. Be normal. Just be who you are, what you’ve trained for. Be the Gators.

“When the Gators are normal,” Rowland says, “they are exceptional.”

Get contributions from newcomers

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Florida has a ton of talent coming back, but four newcomers should compete for mat time during the season. Two are transfers from Georgia and, apparently, there is a rule that Florida has to have a Baumann on the team.

Rachel is the latest and is competing as a grad student. The other is Victoria Nguyen, a junior. They both have a chance to crack the lineup on any given weekend, as do true freshmen Kayla DiCello and Lori Brubach, who could very well have a major impact on the team.

Take advantage of the depth

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And there is plenty of it.

“We have more depth on certain events than we have ever had,” Rowland said.

That includes as many as 15 who have a shot at competing on the beam.

The depth is a two-fold luxury. You get to rest someone like sophomore Sloane Blakely (the only UF freshman to ever get a 10 on the floor) for a meet and if there is an injury, the next gymnast up is not a major step back.

Look forward instead of backwards

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Florida could have won a title under Rowland last year. And the COVID year with no postseason is a great example of what could have been.

But those are history. Tom Petty said it best, “You can look back/but it’s best not to stare.”

Nothing that has happened matters. All that matters is what will happen. This team has six Super Seniors. They know where the prize is.

Don’t let NIL get in the way

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Rowland said the other day that it has not been a problem. Her ladies do quite well with NIL and there aren’t any concerns about opt-outs.

It’s the culture they have created,” she said. “There is no jealousy. But now is the time to bring it down a little bit. They’ve talked about it. You have to be mindful about keeping your priorities in check.”

What she said.

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Story originally appeared on Gators Wire