The seventh-ranked Georgia Bulldogs head to face number three Florida on Friday for one of the most highly-anticipated meets of the season, a meet that has an even more special meaning than just the storied rivalry this year. Marking the first time the Baumann sisters of Rachel and Alyssa will be facing off, this Georgia-Florida face-off will run deeper than the usual rivalry between these two SEC powerhouses.

Alyssa and Rachel Baumann have both grown up in the sport of gymnastics, with the younger sister Rachel saying that Alyssa is the main reason she began, and that the two have “went through the sport together.” Twenty-year-old Alyssa has always been a role model to her 18 year-old sister, and although there has always been a bit of friendly competition between the two self-proclaimed highly competitive sisters- Alyssa mentioning she “never wanted to be outdone by her little sister”- the sisters have always supported each other through the ups and downs of the sport of gymnastics and life.

Alyssa, a sophomore at Florida, and Rachel, a freshman at Georgia, are both excelling in college gymnastics, but the road to get to this point has not always been easy. Alyssa is a former four-time US National Team member and a 2014 world team gold-medalist, just to note a few of her numerous accomplishments in the elite gymnastics world. She was on track to fight for a spot on the Rio 2016 Olympic team, but a serious elbow injury just days before the 2016 US Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Trials forced Alyssa to change her mindset and begin preparing for her next step, collegiate gymnastics at Florida.

Alyssa Baumann performs on the balance beam for the Florida Gators in Gainesville, Florida Phoot: Madison Rose- The Sun Sentinel

During Alyssa’s road to recovery after her elbow surgeries, Rachel was also on the comeback trail after a wrist injury required surgery. The two were both in different stages of their careers- Alyssa transitioning to NCAA, Rachel a Level 10 after her own junior elite career- but were able to bond and lean on each other for support during recovery.

Alyssa, being the older sister, is a role model to Rachel, and says she has always tried to be a person that Rachel could “look up to and say I want to be like my sister, not just in accomplishments but in how I train and live my life.” Rachel has always viewed Alyssa as an inspiration, stating that she “looks up to [Alyssa] in everything she does,” and Rachel has sure followed in her sisters footsteps in making an impact for her college team.

This weekend is the first time that the two will ever be going head to head on the competition floor against each other, and there is friendly competition already brewing as the two prepare to compete for teams that are, in Alyssa’s words, “ two schools that are possibly the biggest rivals in college.”

To add to the excitement, the two compete very similar events- both world renown for their beautiful and exquisite work on the balance beam- and will be directly against each other, and Alyssa joked that she knows Rachel will “definitely be coming for her” and that she knows she will “have to step it up a little”.

Rachel Baumann prepares before performing on the balance beam for the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia Photo: The Red and Black

The friendly rivalry between the two has been especially apparent this week, with a text conversation between the two involving a message from Alyssa jokingly saying, “Sorry can’t talk to you- it’s rivalry week.”

The two have quite a few family members heading to Gainesville this weekend to watch them compete, and the attire this meet for the Baumann cheering section is going to be primarily Florida gear with the O’Dome the venue for this year, with Alyssa saying the family can wear “Florida shirts and Georgia accessories”. The two teams will meet up again for the neutral-site SEC championships later this season, and the Baumann family is already planning ahead, with split team shirts, half Orange and Blue, half Red and Black, ready to wear to show their support equally for both teams and both of their athletes.

The third-ranked Florida Gators have enjoyed major success this season so far, especially against SEC opponents, going undefeated and notably defeating both rivals LSU and Alabama on the road, with Alyssa citing the 49.725 floor rotation at Alabama one of the major highlights of her season so far. Alyssa’s place as a role model to her younger sister is a role she also tries to embody with the freshman on Florida’s team this year, as a sophomore stepping into a leadership role.

The number seven Georgia Gymdogs have also had a successful season thus far, with an SEC win against Kentucky this past weekend a highlight for this very young team.

Both Baumann sisters have excelled this season, with Alyssa commenting on how incredible it was for the two to receive SEC Weekly Honors the same week two weeks ago, with Alyssa the SEC Specialist of the Week and Rachel the SEC Newcomer of the Week.

All talk of rivalry aside, the two sisters, who haven’t seen each other since Christmas, are both extremely proud of each other’s accomplishments and are incredibly excited to have made it to the collegiate competition floor together. The twists and turns in their careers may have been a blessing in disguise, as Rachel’s early-graduation from high school and Alyssa’s deferral give the two an extra two years competing in college together, two more years of Florida-Georgia, Alyssa-Rachel duels for fans to enjoy.

Alyssa calls the moment they will be competing in college together on the same floor “surreal”, saying that both have reached points in the past with their injuries where they did not know if they would be able to continue the sport. To look at the two now, both enjoying college and succeeding in the sport that they both love, it is clear that they are both taking the advice Alyssa has given to Rachel, to take in every single moment of these four years, and enjoying the journey very successfully.

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