Gators shine on Senior Night

UF's Alaina Johnson, Friday night's all-around winner, competes on the bars during a meet against Utah at the O'Connell Center.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, March 16, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 12:02 a.m.

The No. 1 Florida gymnastics team celebrated Senior Night in style as the Gators posted a season-high score to down No. 7 Utah 197.90-196.45 while sending an O'Connell Center crowd of 5,762 home happy in the last regular-season meet of the year for both squads.

Florida's winning mark is the fourth-highest in school history and is the second-highest team score in the nation this year.

“It was really nice to be able to see the athletes perform, especially knowing that it's Senior Night and usually there's a lot of emotion involved,” head coach Rhonda Faehn said. “They were able to control that emotion and everyone was able to really just focus on the performance.”

It was the final home meet for seniors Amy Ferguson, Nicole Ellis and Elizabeth Mahlich, and they all contributed to the win as UF improved to 11-1 heading to the postseason while the Utes slipped to 7-3.

Following the meet, all three were honored along with student coach Kailey Tissue, a 2009 team member.

Four of the top 15 all-arounders in the nation were in action, led by Florida junior All-America Ashanee Dickerson (No. 6), Utah sophomore All-America Corrie Lothrop (No. 10), Florida freshman sensation Kytra Hunter (No. 12) and Florida junior All-America Marissa King (No. 15).

But it was UF sophomore All-America Alaina Johnson who took the all-around crown, finishing with a score of 39.675 that tied her collegiate-best set last year while also tying Hunter for the Gators' season-high mark in the event as well as the nation's third-best all-around score this season.

King was second with a collegiate-best 39.650 and Dickerson gave UF a sweep of the top three spots with a season-high 39.625.

“I'm very happy with my performance, and I'm just glad I could go out and do it for my team, especially for the seniors tonight,” Johnson said. “We're all on the same page and going into postseason, that's really important.”

The meet did not start out great for the Gators, who had just one score of 9.90 or better on the vault, their opening event. That 9.90 was Johnson's, and earned her a share of the event title with Utah's Georgia Dabritz and Kailah Delaney, but the UF score of 49.325 was lower than expected.

The Gators bounced back on bars, posting a score of 49.50 that is the their second-highest score in the event this season. Johnson and Dickerson shared the event title with matching 9.95s, with Dickerson's score a collegiate-best while Johnson's was a season-high.

That momentum carried over to the balance beam, where Johnson shared her third title of the night, this one with King as each Gator posted a 9.925. It was King's seventh beam title of the season as Florida tied its season-high with a score of 49.475.

“I was just in my little bubble,” King said. “It's about being confident — just going in hard and not holding back.”

The Gators then capped the night with a stirring floor exercise rotation, getting great routines from Ferguson and junior Randy Stageberg to kick-start the event and following up with a season-high 9.90 by Johnson, a 9.925 from Dickerson and winning 9.95s from both King and Hunter, with King's mark a season-high.

“I was of course not pleased with vault because we didn't stick one landing,” Faehn said. “That really made me a little upset. But they didn't carry it over to bars, and they just attacked the landings there and same on beam. Then on floor, we finally really put it all together there.”

UF will now begin preparing for the 2012 SEC Championship in Duluth, Ga., next Saturday.

“We made improvements, but whether it's the week off that we had where we just hadn't focused as much on the landings, that really showed tonight,” Faehn said. “That gives us something to work on and get better at heading into SECs, but I was really impressed by the way we finished up on floor.”

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