The No. 1 University of Florida gymnastics team earned the nation’s second-highest score of the year to win the NCAA Regional competition Saturday evening. The Gators earned a 198.40 in front of over 7,000 people in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, notching Florida’s 31st NCAA Championships appearance. The Gators have claimed the NCAA Regional title in eight out of 11 seasons under Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn.
The NCAA Championships are April 19-21 in the Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. After placing second behind Alabama in Duluth, Georgia last season, the Gators are looking to bring first place back to Gainesville this year.
“I’m just excited to represent the school,” sophomore Kytra Hunter said. “Like Rhonda said it doesn’t take an individual to win a championship, it takes a squad so I’m excited to go into NCAAs.”
Minnesota will also be joining Florida in LA, as the Gophers notched second place at 197.10. This marks Minnesota’s first national championship appearance since 2002. Auburn came in at third place at 196.70, followed by Maryland (195.575), Pittsburgh (194.775) and Bridgeport (194.225). Saturday’s victory marks Florida’s 13th NCAA regional win.
The Gators overcame adversity claiming at least a share of every title tonight despite senior Randy Stageberg being out of the lineup due to a dislocated right shoulder. Stageberg has been on the Florida balance beam and floor lineup all season, however after injuring her shoulder during training on March 30th, the senior will be out for the remainder of the year.
“It was not just the gymnastics,” Coach Faehn said about her team’s performance. “It was the heart, the passion and fighting through the circumstances and not letting any of it affect them and their performance.”
Senior Marissa King took Stageberg’s place on the balance beam while freshman Bridgette Caquatto filled in for her position on the floor exercise with little preparation time before the big meet. If that wasn’t enough of a distraction for the team, then junior Mackenzie Caquatto had to undergo emergency root canal surgery Friday night. Luckily, she was able to perform Saturday evening, avoiding another lineup change for the Gators.
Senior Ashanée Dickerson and defending NCAA all-around champion Kytra Hunter shared the vault win at 9.95 with Auburn’s Bri Guy and Minnesota’s Lindsay Mable and Jenny Covers. Freshman Bridget Sloan tied her career high of 9.975 to take her sixth bars title of the season while King excelled at filling in Stageberg’s shoes, matching a career-best 9.95 to claim the balance beam win. King and Hunter shared the floor title scoring a 9.95.
Hunter notched the all-around event title at 39.775 with Sloan placing second with 39.675 and King matching her career-best at 39.65 for third.
“We have so much talent and it’s awesome to be apart of that,” Sloan said. “It’s absolutely incredible to walk into the gym and know that if you’re not in lineup someone who goes in for you is going to hit. They always say you compete how you practice and we practice with our hearts, practice with passion and we want that NCAA championship and I definitely think we are on the right road.”
Caquatto did sensational in all three events, posting 9.925 on bars, a 9.9 on beam and a 9.875 on vault. Bridgette Caquatto posted a career-best 9.925 on floor exercise while junior Alaina Johnson returned to the stage for the first time since Jan.18 after being out due to a stress fracture of her lower back.
“This team is incredible,” Johnson said. “They have supported me 100% from the very beginning from whenever I injured myself and they have pushed me through practices. They have helped me get back on the vault and bars and I’m so honored to be back in lineups.”
Johnson notched a 9.925 on vault and a 9.875 on bars.
Florida earned a 49.60 on the vault, the third highest in school history and second highest of the season while their bars total of 49.60 also matches the second-highest score of the season. The Gators beam score of 49.55 is fourth in Florida’s history and second highest of the season while their 49.65 on floor is their second highest score of all-time and for the season.
“It very special to be able to be a Gator and to be able to compete in front of the Gator Nation is an incredible feeling, having the people and the support,” King said. “The crowd was phenomenal tonight and I’m never going to forget that.”
The National Qualifying Score (NQS) will determine the pairings for the first day of the team competition at the NCAA Championships. The NQS is totaled by combining a team’s regional qualifying score (RQS) and score from the regional meet. Teams are ranked 1 to 12 based on the NQS with teams 1, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 12 being placed in one semifinal and teams 2, 3, 6, 7, 10 and 11 being placed in the other. The top three of each semifinal session will move on to the NCAA Super Six on April 20 where the national team champion will be determined.
Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at email@example.com.