Gators open season on road vs. Wolfpack


Florida coach Rhonda Faehn congratulates Ashanee Dickerson after her vault against Kentucky on Jan. 14, 2011.

Matt Stamey/Staff Photographer
Published: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 8:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 8:57 p.m.

With a program-record 16-member roster, a third straight highly touted recruiting class, a solid core of talented returnees and a No. 3 national preseason ranking, head coach Rhonda Faehn's 2012 Florida gymnastics squad has a lot to be excited about heading into the season opener against North Carolina State in Raleigh tonight at 7.

Facts

UF gymnastics

Who: No. 3 Florida at North Carolina State
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Reynolds Coliseum, Raleigh, N.C.

Despite going into last year's NCAA Championships with the nation's top score in almost every event, UF finished a disappointing seventh, missing the Super Six competition for the first time since 2005 and ending a five-year string of top-five NCAA finishes under Faehn, who is entering her 10th season and has taken the program to unprecedented heights.

That has only fueled the fire for this year.

“Knowing how talented we were last year, it just shows that it takes more than just talent to win championships,” Faehn said. “It takes putting everything together at the right moment.”

Faehn plans on taking advantage of her deep and talented roster to allow more rest for the girls she terms her “heavy hitters,” like juniors Marissa King and Ashanee Dickerson and sophomores Alaina Johnson and Mackenzie Caquatto, so that they will be as fresh as possible for the biggest meets at the end of the season.

King, Dickerson and Johnson have earned 14 All-America honors among them in their short collegiate careers, with King having captured the 2011 NCAA vault title, the first Gator to win an individual event since Susan Hines in 1998. Dickerson, Johnson and Caquatto, meanwhile, were responsible for four of the top 10 NCAA all-around marks posted last season.

There are three seniors — All-Americans Elizabeth Mahlich, Nicole Ellis and Amy Ferguson — while sophomores and freshmen make up half the roster, with newcomers Kytra Hunter and Kiersten Wang headlining a strong five-member freshman class.

This is the third straight year UF and N.C. State have met, with the Gators winning 197.50-194.075 in last year's Link to Pink meet in Gainesville. In UF's last trip to Raleigh (2010), the Gators took a 195.475-194.45 win.

“We have the most people on our team that we've ever had, so it's really exciting because it gives us quite a variety,” Faehn said. “There's a great opportunity for so many athletes to compete this year, hopefully, if we can keep everyone healthy, and it's off to a great start.

“We've had a great fall training and we're ready to get this season started. I think this team has done a great job of bonding really well, and they are confident. I'm excited to see what they can do.”

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