UF gymnastics starts season with win over Nebraska

Florida’s Marissa King focuses on the vault exercise during the Gators’ season-opening gymnastics meet against Nebraska at the O’Connell Center on Friday evening.

Aaron Daye/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 7, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 8, 2011 at 12:36 a.m.

As far as season openers go, Friday night’s performance by the third-ranked Florida gymnastics team was about as good as it gets.

Paced by a dominating performance from 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year Ashanee Dickerson and an impressive debut by true freshman Alaina Johnson, the Gators downed No. 10 Nebraska, 196.925-194.950 before a large and appreciative crowd of 5,025 in the O’Connell Center.

UF’s score was the second-highest in school history for a season-opening performance.

“It was kind of what we were hoping for,” said coach Rhonda Faehn. “You just never know what’s going to happen in the first meet, and I was pleased with the way they competed. They were really calm, but yet they were aggressive. Of course we made some mistakes here and there, but we didn’t have to count any falls.

“Considering all the new faces and the new routines that were performed, it was a wonderful starting point.”

Dickerson, who won seven all-around titles last season as a true freshman, picked up right where she left off, winning the vault, UF’s first event, by sticking her landing for a 9.925 score. She proceeded to win the balance beam and floor exercise events as well with the exact same marks en route to a 39.550 total to claim her eighth all-around crown.

“She just is so solid,” Faehn said. “I knew she was going to be amazing when she stuck that vault. I knew she was going to carry that momentum throughout the whole competition.”

Johnson, meanwhile, was runner-up with a 39.425 all-around mark that is the second-highest in school history for a UF gymnast in her debut. The 5-1 freshman from Tyler, Texas, gave UF a sweep of every event title by winning the uneven bars with a 9.925 mark of her own and added runner-up finishes in the vault (9.850) and floor (9.90), sharing second place in the latter with Gator senior Maranda Smith.

“It was definitely an experience,” Johnson said. “I’ve never competed with a team before, so that was a lot of fun. I just tried to go out there and do what I normally do and not stress over it being a team competition and just have fun.

“I feel good, and I’m relieved. I’m just glad that I started off with a good competition. That always makes it easier when you start off good.”

UF started out strong and did not slow down. The Gators recorded the five highest scores on the vault, with Smith and teammates Nicole Ellis and freshman Brittney Noble all tying for third behind Dickerson and Johnson with marks of 9.825.

Johnson and fellow freshman Mackenzie Caquatto, who just joined the team last week after competing for the U.S. Senior National Team at the 2010 World Championships in October, followed by leading a strong UF effort on the bars, with Caquatto posting a 9.85 to tie Nebraska’s Britnee Habbib for second.

Sophomore Randy Stageberg turned in a strong beam performance to place second behind Dickerson with a 9.85, with fellow sophomore Liz Green and junior Elizabeth Mahlich sharing a three-way tie for third with the Cornhuskers’ Maddie Steinauer, all with scores of 9.8.

UF capped the evening by sweeping the floor exercise, led by Dickerson’s win and the second-place tie between Johnson and Smith. In addition, sophomore Marissa King came through with her best performance of the night, tying for fourth with Nebraska’s Lora Evenstad at 9.875.

Smith and King’s performances were especially impressive because both were doing new floor routines they had implemented less than a week ago.

“It was amazing,” said Smith, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA during the offseason. “There is no other feeling or situation in my life that makes me feel like I do when I’m on the competition floor. I’m so excited for the rest of the season.”

Next up for the Gators (1-0) will be their SEC opener against Kentucky in the O-Dome Friday at 7 p.m.

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