One of the most anticipated gymnastics meets of the season comes to the O’Connell Center tonight at 7 as the top-ranked Florida Gators host No. 5 Alabama.
The last time the Crimson Tide and the Gators met was in the 2012 NCAA National Championship in Duluth, Ga., where Alabama narrowly defeated Florida by 0.075 to notch its second consecutive NCAA title.
Last weekend, the Gators (4-1, 3-1 SEC) went on the road for the first time as the No. 1 team in the country to No. 22 Arkansas. Florida jumped from No. 3 to No. 1 after setting the nation’s highest season total of 197.65 in Florida’s annual Link to Pink meet in the O-Dome against No. 18 Auburn.
Despite defending NCAA all-around and vault champion sophomore Kytra Hunter only performing on the uneven bars and 2012 SEC bars champion junior Alaina Johnson sitting out to rest her back, the Gators proved they are more than capable of holding their own even without two of their most valuable assets. Florida followed up their nation-high total performance with earning the second-highest national total of the season against the Razorbacks as they defeated Arkansas 197.575-196.175.
“Arkansas was so much fun,” senior Marissa King said. “There was just something about Arkansas; there was a different vibe, a different buzz. I don’t know how it came about but we really managed to carry over what we have when we do compete in Gainesville over to Arkansas.”
Florida took home four out of the five events. Freshman Bridget Sloan put on quite a show as the freshman earned her career-high score of 9.925 on the balance beam to claim her second beam title of the season. She also shared the all-around title with senior Ashanée Dickerson at 39.55 to earn her first career all-around win. This marked Dickerson’s third all-around win of the season and 16th of her career.
Dickerson also claimed the vault title with a 9.95 while junior Mackenzie Caquatto used the same mark to notch the uneven bars title.
“Every competition coach Faehn will always say to us we need to stay in our bubble, do what we need to do and don’t get distracted by anything in the arena that we are in,” King said. “We have had five competitions now so we have definitely been able to learn to do that.”
Sloan earned SEC Gymnast of the Week for her performance against the Razorbacks, making her the first freshman to earn the accolade this season. This is the third consecutive week a Gators gymnast has earned the weekly award with Hunter and Dickerson winning previously. Four Gators in total have earned conference awards this season as Caquatto was named SEC Specialist of the Week the same week Dickerson was awarded the SEC’s top award. This marks Sloan’s second award this year as she was named SEC Freshman of the Week the week after competition began.
“It will definitely be very exciting,” Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said. “We really want to have that arena packed just like it was for Link to Pink. Our athletes really feed off of that, they feel the energy and they really do perform better.”
The Crimson Tide have only fallen once this season. Alabama was on the road last weekend at then-No. 8 Georgia in the Stegeman Coliseum. Despite Alabama earning it’s season-best total of 196.95, the Bulldogs defeated the Crimson Tide 197.50-196.95.
Alabama was without two-time All-American senior Ashley Sledge who strained her shoulder on opening rotation on the uneven bars. Despite the loss, junior Kim Jacob took home her fourth consecutive all-around title for the Crimson Tide and earned a 39.275.
The meet will be streaming live through GatorVision.
“I told our team of course it’s still really early in the season, but it’s irrelevant whom we are competing against,” Faehn said. “We are competing against ourselves and trying to do better from the last weekend’s meet.”
Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.