LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The No. 1 University of Florida gymnastics team claimed its first NCAA Super Six team final in dramatic fashion Saturday afternoon in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
Florida’s 197.575 won the title, bettering runner-up Oklahoma’s 197.375. Two-time defending NCAA champion Alabama was third at 197.35, followed by UCLA 197.10, LSU 197.05 and Georgia 196.675.
Although Florida was the meet’s No. 1 seed and owned five the nation’s top eight totals of the season, tonight’s competition was far from an easy win.
A pair of falls put Florida in a hole after the opening rotation. Both Ashanée Dickerson and Kytra Hunter recorded falls in consecutive routines to force a miss to be counted toward the beam score for the first time since the Feb. 22 meet. Freshman Bridget Sloan put up a 9.95 from the second position and senior Marissa King anchored the lineup with a 9.925 as the Gators posted a 48.875.
UF Head Coach Rhonda Faehn said the problem didn’t impact the team’s mindset.
“The mistakes that happened on beam were so uncharacteristic. It was like, what, what happened there? I don’t think it affected anyone other than making it harder,” Faehn said. “There was no looking back to anything in the past. Let’s go to floor and let’s rally.”
Florida went to its locker room for the second rotation bye. When it came out for floor exercise, it was a changed team. No evidence of the drastic trouble on the previous event was present in their performance as the Gators put up an NCAA Super Six record floor total of 49.725. Three Gators turned in or equaled collegiate floor bests Saturday, as freshmen Bridgette Caquatto and Sloan each earned 9.95s and Kytra Hunter posted a 9.975. Dickerson also earned a 9.9 and King had a 9.95.
At the midway point of the meet, Florida was second to Alabama by 0.15. What was needed was strong performances on Florida’s finishing events – vault and uneven bars. Both were events Florida had topped the national event rankings for the majority of the season, so the possibility of closing the gap was definitely a possibility.
Florida picked up some more ground on vault, as the Gators’ 49.50 was the evening high total for the event by 0.25. Four Gators turned in marks of 9.9 or better, including Sloan equaling her collegiate vault best of 9.95. Alaina Johnson, King and Hunter also posted 9.9s.
After sitting out the fifth rotation on bye, Florida returned to the competition floor for its final event – uneven bars. The Gators trailed Alabama by 0.025 – the same margin that the Gators led the Tide heading into the final rotation of the 2012 Super Six final.
But this year had a different ending.
Florida’s 49.475 led all teams on Super Six bars competition. The lineup was punctuated by Johnson’ season-best of 9.95, who had just returned to the Gator lineup for NCAA Regional competition after missing eight meets with a stress reaction and stress fracture of her lower back. Sloan and Mackenzie Caquatto also earned 9.9s.
The Tide was forced to count a 9.625 toward its beam total, dropping them to third behind Oklahoma who finished with a 49.40 on floor exercise.
The fight shown by the Gators tonight was inspiring to Faehn.
“I would say that it was not an ideal opening to the competition, having fallen on the beam. But what I loved was this team rallied and didn’t let that affect them. I told them after that ‘don’t worry, just compete to your hearts content,’ Faehn said. “They came back on the floor and really they were lights out. That continued throughout the meet. It spoke volumes for their desire and their passion. The never give up attitude, because anybody could have laid down and said we are done. But they did not let that happen. I’m really proud of them.”