Florida gymnastics downs Kentucky

The No. 1 Florida gymnastics team went out on a high note Friday evening, finishing up the conference schedule with a win as it defeated No. 23 Kentucky, 196.975-196.075, in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

A Gators gymnast placed first in every event, however, none competed as all-arounders. Kentucky’s junior Audrey Harrison took her sixth all-around win of the season at 39.225.

Florida (7-1, 6-1 SEC) swept its first event on the vault as defending NCAA vault champion sophomore Kytra Hunter tied with her collegiate-best score of 9.975 to place first. Freshman Bridget Sloan placed second with a 9.950 and junior Mackenzie Caquatto earned third with a mark of 9.925. All around the Gators excelled on the bars notching an overall score of 49.55 to mark their second-highest vault score this season. Their score also tied for the fifth-highest vault score in program history.

Florida also swept the competition on the uneven bars as Sloan earned a 9.975 to notch her third consecutive win on the event. Hunter followed up her performance with a 9.950 and freshman Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto placed third with a 9.90.

While the balance beam wasn’t the Gators’ strongest event of the night, they did manage to take first and second place.

“Having these reality checks in the regular season it just reassures us that come post-season when we are traveling to SECs and NCAA that we are going to be ready,” Sloan said. “We’re going to know that we have to focus a little more here and there on beam, we are going to have to reach a little further on bars, we are going to have to really work on our landings.”

Senior Randy Stageberg and Ashanée Dickerson shared the title at 9.875. It was the first beam win in Stageberg’s collegiate career while it was Dickerson’s 67th total career win. Dickerson is now fourth on Florida’s career title’s list.

“The first two events were phenomenal,” UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. “I told the team afterwards it was a disappointing beam performance but I was happy with the way they came back on floor.”

A senior duo rounded out the floor event, the final routine of the night. Seniors Marissa King and Dickerson stole the spotlight during their performances in front of over 4,000 fans. King’s 9.95 mark to take the title matched her season-best and earned her a seventh floor career title. Dickerson earned a 9.90 to take second overall while Stageberg and sophomore Kiersten Wang tied for third at 9.875.

“On beam it wasn’t exactly how we wanted it to go obviously but the girls did a great job coming back on the floor,” King said. “Usually when something like that happens it can carry over to the next event but we didn’t let that happen. I think that all the girls really went out there and competed to the best of their ability.”

It was an exceptionally special night for King as her family was in attendance Friday evening. The King family traveled all the way from Cambridge, England, to watch Florida’s final two regular-season home meets and Marissa’s last two career regular-season meets as a Gators gymnast.

“I remember being a freshman and standing with the rest of my fellow seniors being like ‘that’s going to be us one day’,” King said. “Now it’s actually here. It’s going to be quite an emotional night I think but I’ve had a phenomenal career here and it’s been an amazing experience I never thought I’d ever do in my life.”

Florida’s last regular-season home finale is at 7 p.m. in the O’Connell Center Friday, March 1 against No. 12 Minnesota (12-1, 4-1 Big Ten). It will be Senior Night and the tremendous careers of Florida’s Dickerson, King, Dali Lemezan and Stageberg will be honored.

Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at lizxxbeth@gators.ufl.edu.