7,260 fans decked out in Orange and Blue packed the O’ Dome Friday night to witness the second ranked Florida gymnastics team walk out with a win over top ranked Oklahoma, defeating the Sooners 197.875 to 197.225. This was a big matchup for Florida, considering the last time the Gators and the Sooners met was at the NCAA championship when the Sooners were runner-up to the defending national champions.
The pressure was on leading up to this meet. All eyes were on Florida to see if the reigning national champs would pull away with another big win; and in their rematch, the Gators were red hot, making history yet again.
“It was a very consistent performance,” Gators coach Rhonda Faehn said. “What I loved about that was we knew this was going to be our toughest challenge so far this year. Our athletes responded in a positive and aggressive manner, instead of backing down or being uptight and tense. They just attacked everything, and it was really nice to see.”
Dressed in leotards full of rhinestones, Florida opened up with a powerful vault rotation, with the SEC Gymnasts of the Week and dynamic duo of junior of Kytra Hunter and sophomore Bridget Sloan leading the way NAILING vault, posting near-perfect scores of 9.95. Meanwhile, junior Rachel Spicer, and seniors Mackenzie Caquatto, and Alaina Johnson all recorded scores of 9.85 contributing to the final vault score of 49.475 while the Sooners finished with a score of 49.425 overall on vault.
“I think our hottest gain tonight was the excitement,” Sloan said. “We look forward and wait for it, Kytra and I were both talking about how Friday comes and goes and we always say when it is going to be Friday night again?” We wait for it, because we absolutely love competing.”
Going into the uneven bars rotation, the Gators continued to score high. Sophomore Bianca Dancose-Giamba, senior Alaina Johnson, Sloan, and Hunter all came out strong scoring 9.90, a season best for Johnson and Dancose-Giamba. In addition, Bridgette Caquatto and Mackenzie Caquatto scored 9.85 on bars, making Florida’s final score 49.400 on uneven bars.
Moving onto the third rotation, Sloan finished almost perfect scoring 9.95 while freshman Claire Boyce along with Hunter both finished with 9.90. But once again, Florida saved their best for last.
In the floor exercise, Hunter recorded another perfect 10, becoming the first Gator gymnast to get two 10’s on floor and post perfect scores in consecutive performances since Susan Hines in the NCAA Semifinal and Super Six rounds in 1998.
Hunter’s consecutive top scores and phenomenal performances has her breaking program records. Hunter said grabbing a 10 last week fueled her drive to gain the momentum to perform just as well Friday night.
“What I feel inside is so much adrenaline,” Hunter said. “You know there’s still more 10’s I can get, that mean’s I still need to work hard; Getting a 10 doesn’t mean I can slack off, it means I really need to keep that going.”
“It amazes me how incredible of an athlete she is,” Sloan said. “Her power, it’s just unheard of. It’s just like, I could tumble under you and I’d still be okay. I think that’s what makes her such a strong asset to the team.”
The SEC Gymnast of the Week may not have pulled away with another back to back perfect 10 on floor, but had an outstanding performance in three out of the four events. The sophomore scored a 9.90 on bars, a 9.95 on beam and a 9.95 on vault for an all-around score of 39.750.
Sloan added that the team’s enthusiasm and close connection is their biggest motivation.
“It’s really incredible how close we are and how much we want to get better,” Sloan said. “I think that’s going to be the deciding point for post season. Who is hungry enough to stick that landing? Who is hungry enough to put in that little extra during practice? It’s an awesome ride now, and all we gotta do is just maintain it.”
Friday night’s matchup with Oklahoma proved how powerful and elite this Florida Gator gymnastics team really is, making history every time they take floor.
“I mean there’s never a time that we can just stop,” Hunter said. We have to keep going; that’s what’s going to get us that first place trophy, and if we want that trophy we have a lot of work to do still.”
Up next, the Gators face Kentucky Friday, February 7th in Lexington at 7 pm.
“The SEC is the best conference and they have a lot of talented girls and I also have a lot of teammates there too so that will be fun seeing them,” Hunter said. “But we’re going to keep working hard because we want to be those back to back national champions and make history; that’s what we’re all about, making history.”
The victory over the top ranked Sooners means when the new poll is released, the Gators will probably take over the number one spot.
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