The No. 1 University of Florida gymnastics team captured its’ first national championship Saturday evening in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, bearing fans to witness an incredible comeback story.
The Gators won the tournament earning a 197.575 mark to edge runner-up Oklahoma’s 197.375. Two-time defending NCAA champion who deprived the Gators last year of this victory was Alabama at third with 197.35. UCLA followed with a 197.10, LSU with 197.05 and Georgia claimed a 196.675.
The Gators were on beam for the opening rotation, had a bye for the second rotation, were on the floor for the third rotation and then finished out the meet on the vault and uneven bars.
The opening rotation for the Gators plagued Florida early on as senior Ashanée Dickerson and sophomore Kytra Hunter fell on their exercises hurting the Gators overall score on the beam. Despite earning a 48.875 on the beam, UF head coach Rhonda Faehn said the team was not shaken up at all by the mishaps.
“The mistakes that happened on beam were so uncharacteristic,” Faehn said. “It was like, what, what happened there? I don’t think it affected anyone other than making it harder. There was no looking back to anything in the past. Let’s go to floor and let’s rally.”
After Florida’s bye, they came out onto the floor and gave the fans a show. Putting on an NCAA Super Six record floor total of 49.725, Hunter earned a 9.975 while freshmen Bridgette Caquatto and Bridget Sloan each earned 9.95s.
The Gators kept rolling on the next event, earning the night’s high total for the vault, a 49.50. Four Gators earned 9.9s or better and Sloan equaled her collegiate vault best of 9.95 to led Florida.
After another bye, the Gators stepped on the floor for once last time as a team to compete on the uneven bars. Déjà vu was in the air as Florida was trailing Alabama by 0.025, the exact same amount the Crimson Tide was trailing the Gators by last year in the 2012 Super Six Final.
The Gators must have remembered the bitter feeling that they left Duluth, GA with last year as Florida scored the highest mark on the night’s bars competition- 49.475. Led by junior Alaina Johnson’s season-best 9.95 who just returned to the lineup after a stress reaction and stress fracture of her lower back, the Gators claimed the 2013 gymnastics national title for the first time in program history. Florida becomes just the fifth team to claim the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship, joining Alabama, UCLA, Georgia and Utah.
While the opening rotation isn’t exactly what the Gators had in mind, coach Faehn couldn’t be more proud of how they fought their way back in to become national champions.
“I would say that it was not an ideal opening to the competition, having fallen on the beam,” Faehn said. “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 heart’s content. 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.”
The NCAA Championship continues Sunday evening at 4 p.m. with the NCAA Individual Event finals. Florida will be represented in every event with Dickerson, Hunter and Johnson on the vault, Mackenzie Caquatto, Johnson and Sloan on the uneven bars, Mackenzie Caquatto, King and Sloan on the balance beam and King, Sloan on the floor.