The No. 1 Gator gymnastics team used the second highest score in the nation to take first place in the NCAA Regional Saturday night in the O’Dome. Florida’s 198.40 is only 0.025 away from the 198.425 score that leads the nation that Florida posted earlier this season against Minnesota. With the regional win, Florida qualifies for the NCAA championship in Los Angeles, California. Gator head coach Rhonda Faehn talks about the performance Friday night.
The meet started on mixed emotions, as it was announced that senior starter Randy Stageberg dislocated her shoulder in practice, ending her season. Stageberg’s injury left open lineup spots in both balance beam and floor. On the flip side, junior Alaina Johnson made her comeback on Saturday after being sidelined by a stress reaction and stress fracture in her lower back for most of the season. Junior Mackenzie Caquatto also underwent an emergency root canal Friday night and the coaches weren’t sure if she was going to be able to compete for the Gators, but ended up competing in all three of her usual events. Faehn talks more about the complications the team faced this week.
In her first meet since January 18th, Johnson stuck an impressive vault that earned her a 9.925. Freshman Bridget Sloan picked up a 9.9 and senior Ashanée Dickerson and sophomore Kytra Hunter rounded out the lineup with 9.95’s, claiming the vault title. Florida’s 49.6 on vault is 0.025 away from tying the season-best vault score and is third highest in school history.
After the impressive start on vault, the ball kept on rolling from there. The Gators posted another 49.6 on the uneven bars, which ties for the second highest total of the season. Johnson finished her day with a 9.875, Hunter picked up a 9.95, Caquatto posted a 9.925, and Sloan took the title with a near-perfect 9.975. Faehn says that the mentality this week was the go big or go home, which was reflective in the big scores.
Half way through the meet, it became apparent that Florida was in command of the NCAA Regional and the competition turned into a race between Auburn and Minnesota for the second qualifying spot for the NCAA Championship, who were tenths away from each other.
Florida didn’t look at the scoreboard, though, and continued to grind away, posting a 49.55 on balance beam, which is the second highest score this season. Sloan and Caquatto both posted 9.9’s and Hunter matched her collegiate-best of a 9.925. But the show belonged to senior Marissa King who stuck her landing to score a 9.95, matching her collegiate-best to win the title.
The Gators ended on floor in a lights out performance that showed just how elite this team really is. The 49.65 floor score is again the second highest this season, with all five scores at a 9.9 or above. The absence of Stageberg allowed freshman Bridgette Caquatto to step in and step up for the Gators. And that’s exactly that she did, scoring a 9.925. Sloan posted a 9.9, Dickerson scored a solid 9.925 and Hunter and King took the title with a 9.95. Sloan says that the passion of the gymnasts is what leads to their success.
The last rotation started with Minnesota down 0.050 points to Auburn, but after a strong 49.525 vault performance from the Gophers, Minnesota slipped past the Tigers to take the second qualifying spot and a trip to L.A. for the NCAA championship by .300 points.
Florida’s Hunter took the All-Around title with a 39.775, which is just 0.025 off her season-best, and is the second highest All-Around score in the nation this year. Sloan came in second in the All-Around with a 39.675 and King was right behind her with a 39.65. Hunter talks about winning the All-Around title and her attitude moving forward.
Next up, the Gators head to California in search of their first NCAA national championship. They will compete the weekend of April 19-21.