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UF women gymnasts score season high at regionals, advance to NCAA finals

GAINESVILLE — The Florida gymnastics team saved its best for when it needed it most.

The No. 4 Gators posted a season-high 198.325 during the Gainesville Regional to advance to NCAA championships scheduled for April 18 and 20 in Fort Worth, Texas. It will mark UF’s 40th appearance in the finals during the event’s 42-year history.

Freshman phenom Anya Pilgrim and surprising senior Ellie Lazzari led the way. The duo tied for the all-around title with scores of 39.65. Behind them were teammates Victoria Nguyen and Leanne Wong at 39.60.

With 197.575 points, No. 5 Utah also advanced from the nine-team pool of teams competing Sunday at the O’Connell Center.

“It really felt like an intrasquad for us,” coach Jenny Rowland said.

The Gators will need an even more complete performance next week after finishing runner-up to Oklahoma at the 2022 and 2023 NCAA championships.

Florida has found its stride in time to give the Gators a shot.

The top-ranked Sooners lead the nation with an average score of 198.360, followed by LSU (197.908) and Cal (197.908), putting each in range of the Gators at their best.

Pilgrim’s performance continued her meteoric evolution during her first season in Gainesville. Meanwhile, Lazzari’s effort was her best since she matched the score twice as a freshman in 2021.

Wong continued to prove herself the Gators’ most dependable performer while Nguyen’s emergence as an all-around competitor rather than a specialist has rounded out Rowland’s squad.

“It was a sweet night,” Rowland said. “Extremely proud of this team for leaving everything out on the floor tonight. Everybody stepped up from the very first competitor.”

The Gators opened the meet with its second-highest beam (49.60), vault (49.575) and uneven bars (49.50) totals of the season.

Lazzari anchored the beam effort with a team-high 9.95 and scored a meet-best 9.925 on the vault, which Wong and freshman Skylar Draser matched. Wong and Pilgrim each turned in a team-high 9.925 on the uneven bars.

All six in Florida’s floor exercise lineup earned a 9.9 or better for the first time this season as UF turned in its third-highest total (49.65) of 2024. Pilgrim and Wong tied for the top score at 9.95.

“Everyone was extremely present, calm and collected,” Rowland said. “Really proud that we get to keep dancing.”

Edgar Thompson can be reached at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com