LINCOLN, Neb. – The No. 1 Florida gymnastics team (10-1, 5-1 SEC) finished its regular-season road schedule with a come-from-behind win at No. 6 Nebraska (10-2, 2-0 Big 10) Sunday afternoon in front of a Bob Devaney Center crowd of 2,472. The Gators took the win with a total of 196.95 and Nebraska posted a final total of 196.825.
Nebraska led the meet through each of the first three rotations and owned a slender 0.05 lead as the Cornhuskers headed to the floor exercise for their final event.
Florida rotated to balance beam and knew that the score was tight. Adding to the pressure was an uncharacteristic beam miss by freshman Rachel Spicer, putting the focus squarely on the team’s final four performers to hit to give Florida a chance at the meet’s team title.
One after another, the final four turned in steady and solid performances. All-Americans Alaina Johnson and Ashanée Dickerson each turned in marks of 9.85 and freshman Kytra Hunter posted a 9.875. Junior All-American Marissa King anchored the beam set with a 9.925 - matching meet’s highest mark of the day - for her third consecutive beam win and sixth of the season.
King admits she knew the situation the team was facing before it was her time to perform. Dickerson’s words before her beam set helped get her focus exactly where it needed to be.
“I had noticed Spice’s score before I went up,” King said. “Ashanée came up to me after her routine and she really gave me some strong words, telling me to ‘not hold back, go big and you’ve got this’. That really helped. So I went up there and did my routine how I know I can do it.”
Florida Head Coach Rhonda Faehn liked how the team responded to the challenges they faced on the last event.
“I think it was a really great situation. I tell them constantly to focus on what we need to do to perform at our absolute best. When we were going into beam, I challenged them to show the passion and the fight and to attack that last event,” Faehn said. “They responded tremendously well. They fought for every little thing and we had a lot of stuck landings. I was really pleased with how they came through with the win on the last event.”
The Gators started the meet with an uneven bars set which saw the team’s score hurt by missed handstands and small steps on landings, resulting in a 49.225 total. Marks of 9.875 by three Gators – Nicole Ellis, Mackenzie Caquatto and Johnson – led Florida on the event to share third overall. Janelle Giblin and Lora Everstad anchored the Cornhusker’s bar lineup with a pair of 9.925s to share the day’s event title.
The Gators matched their top event total of the day, 49.325, on the vault. Gator All-Americans Ashanée Dickerson and Alaina Johnson shared the day’s vault title at 9.90 with Nebraska’s Jamie Schleppenbach and Jessie DeZiel. Spicer led off the Gators’ vault set with a collegiate-best 9.875.
Floor was a low scoring event for both teams Sunday. Florida posted a 49.075 on the event as only four Gators turned in marks of 9.80 or above. Junior Randy Stageberg and Hunter led the Gators with their floor marks of 9.85, which shared third overall. Floor was won by DeZiel and Emily Wong at 9.875.
DeZiel and Wong also shared the all-around title at 39.45. Florida’s Hunter was third at 39.375.
Sunday’s meet was a double-dual, as the No. 10 Nebraska men’s team played host to Arizona State. There was something always happening on the competition floor, which is much like the atmosphere the Gators will face at the Southeastern Conference Championships’ later this month. Faehn thinks it was a great learning experience for Florida.
“I think we did a good job. It certainly wasn’t one of our best competitions, but they showed a lot a passion and a lot of fight, especially coming around on the last event. So I’m really proud of how they did under the circumstances,” Faehn said. “It was a different environment with so much going on. It tested them and I think they will grow stronger and get better from it.”
Florida now has a week off before facing No. 7 Utah on Friday, March 16 for Senior Night where UF’s Nicole Ellis, Amy Ferguson and Elizabeth Mahlich will be honored. Meet time is set for 7 p.m. in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center<http://www.oconnellcenter.ufl.edu/eventprofile.asp?eventid=1887>. Fans that donate two children’s books (new/used in good condition) or $5 worth of school supplies will receive a 2-for-1 admission ticket. Donations should be brought to O’Connell Center Gate 1 and they will benefit the Shands Pediatrics Clinics and Alachua County elementary and middle schools.