WRUF Profiles

Florida Gymnastics Looks to Defend Title

By on April 14th, 2014

          The top-ranked, defending national champion Florida Gator gymnastics team has now embarked on their postseason competition after an impressive regular season. So far this year, multiple University of Florida records have been broken, and UF’s athletes are ranked among the best in the nation. Additionally, in eight out of the ten weeks of the regular season, a Florida gymnast has been named SEC gymnast of the week, and the Gators have been ranked in the nation’s top three teams for the entire season.

The Gators ended their regular season as the No. 1 team in the nation with only one loss to Alabama. They came in second at the SEC Championships in Birmingham, Ala. on March 22 after leading the competition for the first three rounds and coming up just short of Alabama’s 197.875 with a score of 197.70.

According to Gatorzone.com, it was announced March 24 that the Gators will travel to Penn State University for NCAA regional competition in University Park, Penn. on April 5. It is there that the Gators will begin defending their national title and will be competing against No. 12 Oregon State, No. 15 Penn State, No. 23 New Hampshire, No. 29 Kentucky and No. 36 Maryland. The top two teams from the regional meet will advance to the 2014 NCAA Championships in Birmingham April 18-20.

Florida junior All-American Kytra Hunter said she doesn’t typically like to look too far ahead, but she wants her team to be back-to-back national champions.

“Whatever I have to do and whatever I can do, I’m gonna do that for the team,”  she said.

Hunter, who is the No. 7 gymnast in the NCAA, has certainly contributed to the Gators success this year. She is currently in the midst of making UF history. She has collected six perfect scores this season: four on the floor exercise and two on vault. She now has more perfect 10’s than any other Florida gymnast in a season and more than anyone at UF has ever had in their collegiate career. Her total 10.0’s for floor matches the record for perfect 10’s in one event, Susan Hines earned four on the vault in 1996 and 1998. However, Hunter holds the record for the most perfect scores in an event in a single season, as Hines earned three of hers in ‘98 and one in ‘96, according to Gatorzone.

Hunter has said all season that her goal is ten 10’s. She still has regionals, and likely nationals, to achieve her goal. Although it may seem that Hunter has perfected her craft, she still knows she cannot become complacent and must still work to improve.

“I’m a really humble person,” she said. “I know that no matter what the scores are, there’s always room for improvement so that’s what I try to do every day.”

Hunter is not the only one breaking school records this season. Sophomore All-American Bridget Sloan matched the highest all-around total in UF history at Missouri on March 14. The record score of 39.825 was set only the week before by Florida senior All-American Alaina Johnson. It is also the highest all-around total in the country for the 2014 season, according to Gatorzone.com.

As of the SEC Championships, Sloan has won nine consecutive all-around titles, approaching the UF record of 11 by Melissa Miller in 1988. She has also accumulated 27 event titles so far in 2014 and has been SEC Gymnast of the Week six times.

According to the national GymInfo rankings, she is the No. 1-ranked gymnast in the nation and did not receive a score less than 9.90 in more than half of the regular season meets.

Sloan’s success has carried over into the postseason. At the SEC Championship in Birmingham, she took the all-around title and matched her six-time collegiate best on vault of 9.95, according to Gatorzone.com.

Those consistent high scores will certainly help her team reach their goals in the regional and national meets, and Sloan said she has been looking forward to competing in the upcoming competitions.

“Postseason is so incredible,” she said. “It was a blast last year and I have very high expectations for this year.”

The Gators have significant depth in talent in their roster. Senior All-American Mackenzie Caquatto has scored above 9.90 on the balance beam and the uneven bars in the last four meets of the regular season. She is ranked 2nd nationally on beam and 6th on bars, according to the national GymInfo rankings.

Senior All-American Alaina Johnson has been gaining momentum over the course of the season. On her senior night, March 7, at the Gators’ home meet against West Virginia, she broke UF record for the all-time highest all-around score with a 39.825. She now shares the record with teammate Bridget Sloan, and it is the highest score of 2014 in the country.

Johnson is currently tied with LSU’s Sarie Morrison as the 9th-ranked gymnast in the country.

Junior Rachel Spicer is another contributing factor of the Gators’ success. She competes on the vault, balance beam and floor exercise and has broken her collegiate-best record scores in all three events in 2014.

Spicer said she excited for postseason and has been working hard in the gym at practice to prepare.

“Practice hasn’t really changed, as in the assignments and things like that,” she said. “I would say it’s more focused on details like being sharp and showing off dance on floor and definitely the landings on vault and bars is very important.”

Head Coach Rhonda Faehn said her game plan going forward is simple: doing what they’ve been doing all year long, not holding back, competing aggressively and just having fun.

The Gators have demonstrated their ability to be top contenders on the national stage. Even though they are hopeful for another national title, Bridget Sloan knows that no matter what, their work has not been in vain.

“Whatever happens, I just hope that we can look back on this whole year and realize that we came closer together as a team, that we became stronger individuals and stronger gymnasts inside and outside of the gym and just realize that everything happens for a reason,” Sloan said. “Whether things go our way or not, we’ll be able to look back on this season and realize: There were good things that came out of it.”

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