The celebrations for the Florida Gators gymnastics team just keep on coming. After a dramatic comeback in Saturday evening’s 2013 NCAA gymnastics championship, two Gators brought the Florida gymnastics program home two more accolades.
Two Florida Gators claimed two events Sunday evening as the NCAA Gymnastics Individual Event Championships was held in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. With nearly 3,000 people in the stands, junior Alaina Johnson and freshman Bridget Sloan each scored gold in their own events, after the Gators earned the first NCAA gymnastics national championship in program history Saturday night.
Johnson became the first Florida Gator to win the uneven bars title and Sloan claimed the balance beam title to add to her all-around win from Friday evening. Johnson scored a 9.925 in Friday’s semifinal round to earn a spot in the uneven bars final while Sloan’s 9.90 notched her a place in the balance beam final. This marks the first time since 1998 that two Gators claimed two different event titles. Florida was represented in every event Sunday evening for the first time since 2007.
Johnson earned a 9.9125 to win the uneven bars title. Sloan was not far behind Johnson, as the freshman shared second at 9.90 and junior Mackenzie Caquatto shared fourth at 9.8875.
This was Johnson’s third time competing in the uneven bars event. From her incredible landing you wouldn’t even be able to tell the junior missed eight meets this season due to a lower back stress reaction and stress fracture. In fact, she only returned to Florida’s lineup April 6th. While Johnson trained in whatever way she could to prepare for this moment, she said a lot of it was also just replaying exercises in her head.
“A lot of it comes through visualizing for me,” Johnson said. “In some free time I’ll visualize my routine and feel it through my body. That’s the number one thing and I kept in shape doing cardio and what I could. That helped also.”
Sloan nailed a 9.90 for her balance beam victory. Mackenzie Caquatto placed fourth at 9.85 and senior Marissa King placed seventh at 9.7875. Sloan became just the sixth freshman in NCAA gymnastics history to win more than one event title as a freshman. The freshman followed teammate Kytra Hunter’s footsteps, as Hunter claimed both the 2012 vault and all-around titles.
While three Gators competed for the vault title, none of them placed in the top three. Senior Ashanee Dickerson shared fifth at 9.90 while sophomore and defending vault champion Kytra Hunter place 16th at 9.85. Johnson tied for 17th at 9.825. Alabama’s Diandra Milliner and LSU’s Rheagan Courville shared the vault title at 9.925
On the floor exercise, Sloan and King represented the Gators but it was Michigan’s Joanna Sampson who took the cake at 9.9375. While Sloan tied for fourth at 9.90, King shared sixth at 9.8875.
Even though the excitement of being only the fifth school to earn a gymnastics national championship was enough to last a lifetime, Sloan said every Gators competing in the individual events wanted to end the season on a powerful note.
“We won the national team championship, but the six of us wanted to finish it off strong,” Sloan said. “It was awesome to be on the podium again. As soon as you saluted, the adrenaline started to pick up and you were ready to go again. It was just such an awesome experience to share with the team.”
A celebration will be taking place in order to honor the newly crowed 2013 NCAA gymnastics champions in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Monday evening. It will begin at 7 p.m. with gates opening at 6p.m. Admission is free and it will be located in the O’Dome’s main arena.
Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.