The NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship madness has invaded Los Angeles this week, and the No. 1 team in the land, the Florida Gators, are hoping this year is better than the last.
Go back one year to the 2012 NCAA Championship. The Gators trailed defending champion Alabama by 0.025 going into the last rotation. Florida was up on floor, Alabama on beam. It all came down to the final performance. Alabama senior Ashley Priess took to the beam and stuck herself a 9.95 routine. Alabama would win it all 197.850. Florida came in a close second with a 197.775 followed right by UCLA with a 197.75, in one of the closest National Championship battles in NCAA Women’s Gymnastics history.
The next day the Gators came out for the All-Around and individual event title events and Kytra Hunter, who was only a freshman at the time, stole the NCAA All-Around award as well as the Vault title. This is interesting to note, because Hunter, who won the 2012 Vault title the next day with a score of 9.975, which is arguably her best event, took a big hop and a step the day before on the vault in the team finals and scored an uncharacteristic 9.85.
While head coach Rhonda Faehn quickly dismissed the idea that it was Hunter’s vault that lead to the championship to slip through their fingers, it left a bad taste in the Gators mouths. They wanted to work hard in the off season and come back better. And that’s exactly what they did. Hunter talks about what she learned from post season action last year.
Fast forward to the 2013 Championship and the Gators are in LA on a very important business trip. Florida starts their action Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET in the first session of the semi-finals, competing against Minnesota, Illinois, Georgia, LSU and Stanford. The top three from this session will advance to the Super Six on Saturday competing against the top three finishers of session two which includes Arkansas, Alabama, Michigan, UCLA, Utah and Oklahoma. The winner of the Super Six will be crowned the new champion of the collegiate gymnastics world. Faehn talks about the draw the Gators received for the semi-finals.
Florida has been dominating the country this year, and at times, looks like an elite team with the competition far away. And this team just keeps getting better. Most recently, the Gators are coming off a stellar performance in NCAA Regionals, where they posted a 198.4, only .025 away from the highest score in the nation, which of course, was also posted by the Gators earlier this season against Minnesota. Faehn says that the schedule was carefully made to make sure the Gators were tested in all aspects this season.
Although sad news came out two weeks ago as senior Randy Stageberg was out for the rest of the season with a dislocated shoulder, Florida finally got back junior All-American Alaina Johnson. In her first meet since January 18th, Johnson stuck an impressive vault that earned her a 9.925.This team is loaded with talent in sophomore on a mission, Hunter, Olympic alumni freshman Bridget Sloan and senior Marissa King, and crowd favorite Ashanée Dickerson. Hunter says that all this team needs to do is compete how they practice in order to succeed.
I could load you with statistics proving why Florida will probably win the national championship for the first time this year. Instead, I’ll leave you with this: this is a team to be proud of. This team has made history in more ways than one. This team has not only posted the highest score in Gator gymnastics history, but also the highest score in the nation this year, a score that is higher than any other National Championship winning score ever. This team has the will to succeed and their energy and determination have set them apart from the rest of the competition. This year this team won’t settle for walking away with second place. They’re going to make sure of it.
The NCAA will be streaming live coverage of the semi-finals online with the Gators starting Semifinal I competition on the floor exercise. Start time for Semifinal I is set for 3 p.m. ET.