Hype surrounded Friday night as 9,197 fans decked out in pink packed the O’ Dome to watch the No. 2 Florida gymnastics squad dominate No. 3 LSU while showing their support against breast cancer in the eighth annual “Link to Pink” meet. The Gators surpassed the Tigers with a final score of 198.125 to 197.625. This was the fourth- highest total in school history and a season-best for the Gators.
The pressure was on leading up to this meet. All eyes were on Florida to see if the undefeated reigning national champs would pull away with another big win against SEC foe LSU; as the Tgers posed a threat to the Gators as a tough competitor. But, once the Gators gymnasts ran out the tunnel in their sparking pink leotards and looked around at the breast cancer survivors circled around them, passion filled their hearts as they realized they were competing for something greater than a win. Junior All-American Kytra Hunter said the second she stepped out of the tunnel and saw the crowd, one very special person came to mind.
“It was just incredible,” Hunter said. “I lost my grandma in 2005 to cancer so I know she’s an angel watching over me. I know she would do everything she could to be here to watch me as well; I really wish she could be here, but I’m happy it was a great turn out.”
From that moment it was lights out.
Florida opened up with a phenomenal vault rotation. Highlighting the night, Hunter recorded her second consecutive perfect score on vault, making that her fourth 10.0 this season. The junior’s top score has her shattering program records, now the first Gator to post back-to back 10’s on vault since Susan Hines in the 1998 NCAA Semis and Super 6. This also marked the fifth consecutive week that a Gator scored a perfect 10, making it six total this season. Hunter talks about how special it was scoring her second consecutive perfect score on vault.
“My parents weren’t able to be here last week, and for me to do it again and for them to see it, it was incredible,” Hunter said. “Honestly, ever since last week I’ve been getting those stuck landings in practice. I won’t move on from vault until I get two perfect stuck landings; it’s incredible and I definitely remember the corrections I get in the gym, and that definitely helped me a lot.”
Entering the uneven bar rotation, Senior Alaina Johnson and sophomore Bridget Sloan led the way posting scores of 9.925 and 9.900 for the Orange and Blue. Senior Mackenzie Caquatto followed, recording a score of 9.875. Florida finished with a score of 49.400 overall on bars.
Moving onto the third rotation, the Gators had an impressive performance on balance beam. Sloan led the way nailing beam posting a score of 9.90. Mackenzie Caquatto, freshman Clair Boyce, and junior Rachel Spicer also had solid performances recording scores of 9.925 or above. Florida finished with a score of 49.550 while the Razorbacks posted a 49.225.
The team ended on floor, with big time performances by the dynamic duo of Hunter and Sloan. Their sassy routines captivated the crowd with every nailed flip and precise movement contributing to their near-perfect scores of 9.975 and 9.950.
“It was another amazing night,” Sloan said. “I know I say that every night but what made tonight so special was obviously Link to Pink. It is very emotional for some people and I know we get a lot of people and residents from Gainesville that we support 100%, and I think it’s nice to show that we support them.”
“Obviously we fight out there but they have a totally different fight in life,” Sloan said. “I think it’s awesome that we can all come together as one and it was really special tonight. The crowd was amazing and to win against a rival SEC team, I mean it was pretty perfect.”
The defending NCAA All-Around champion also won her sixth-straight all-around title of the year with a score of 39.700. Sloan also took the balance beam title while Hunter walked away with the vault and floor-exercise titles. Gators head coach Rhonda Faehn spoke about the team’s performance and the unforgettable night.
“It was everything we were looking for. It was an incredible crowd, our athletes just really feed off of that,” Faehn said. “What an amazing crowd for such an amazing cause. Our Link to Pink meet is such an inspirational meet and so many of our athletes have had family members affected with this disease; It’s really a special event all around.”
The Gators have made the rare perfect 10 seem commonplace in recent weeks and will look to continue making history this season, thriving off each competition.
Up next, the Gators travel to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama on Friday.
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