Hunter heads to regionals with hot hand


Florida's Kytra Hunter competes on the beam during the gymnastics meet against Utah at the Stephen C O'Connell Center, in Gainesville on March 16. Florida won the meet.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 10:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 10:38 p.m.

When you do something that hasn't been done in almost 30 years at a gymnastics program with the tradition of Florida's, you've done something big.

Facts

NCAA REGIONALS

When: Saturday, April 7 at 4 p.m.
Where: Raleigh, N.C.
Participants: (1) Florida, (2) Ohio State, (3) Penn State, (4) North Carolina State, (5) Kent State, (6) North Carolina

At the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championships in Duluth, Ga., on March 24, Kytra Hunter became the first Gator freshman to win the SEC All-Around title since Elfi Schlegel did so back in 1983.

In addition, Hunter is the first all-around winner from UF since Kristen Guise in 1995.

“I did come in with a lot of expectations for myself,” Hunter said. “I tried to lower them a little and tried not to get so frustrated in practice. It was kind of hard, but I learned.

“I've grown so much as a person just competing here. Each meet I feel like I've gotten better, and at SECs I finally put everything together.”

Hunter, a 5-foot freshman from Frederick, Md., posted a winning score of 39.625 to take the SEC all-around title. Along the way, she added an individual event title in the vault with a collegiate-best and near-perfect 9.975, placed second on both the balance beam (9.875) and floor exercise (9.90) and finished among the top five on uneven bars with a 9.875 that tied her collegiate-best.

The Gators won their eighth overall SEC title and second in the last three years.

“Kytra coming away with the all-around win was something really special,” said UF head coach Rhonda Faehn. “She's just an amazing talent. She just carried herself on practice day with such focus and discipline that I knew she was going to have a great competition.”

Hunter's performance earned her First-Team All-SEC honors as well as SEC Freshman of the Year kudos — the third straight year a UF gymnast has won the latter. In 2011, the award went to Alaina Johnson, and in 2010 it went to Ashanee Dickerson.

“Going in, the girls told me that it was going to be one of the best meets we've had, so I was real excited,” Hunter said. “There were a lot of things I was really looking forward to. It was a really fun meet, just being out there and competing with all the SEC schools.”

Hunter, a two-time member of the U.S. Senior National Team and Senior International Elite competitor, leads UF in individual event titles (19) and all-around crowns (five) this year heading into next weekend's NCAA Regionals despite this being her first season of college gymnastics.

“It's fun,” Hunter said. “It was kind of weird to me at first, but I jumped in and I'm having a blast now.”

“She's amazing,” said Dickerson, a junior and five-time All-America. “It shows how hard she works in the gym. Her gymnastics is big. She deserves everything that she has won.”

Hunter is a powerful gymnast whose lower body can launch her into some awe-inspiring performances.

“I love to do vault and floor,” she said. “Those are primarily my best events. I'm more of a leg gymnast, so I think those events just naturally come to me.”

Hunter has posted collegiate-best marks of 9.975 on both events — on the vault at SECs and on the floor in an earlier dual-meet win over LSU — that are not only season-highs for the Gators, but tie for the No. 6 and No. 3 all-time school marks in those events, respectively.

Her winning SEC all-around score of 39.625, meanwhile, is actually her second-best mark this year. Hunter is one of two Gators (Johnson is the other) to record an all-around mark of 39.675 in 2012 that ties for the nation's third-highest score and ranks No. 7 (tie) all-time at UF.

“I think it's her family, her background, her upbringing and her training to this point,” Faehn said. “She achieved an extremely high position in the elite world, but it's hard when you're an elite-level athlete. No matter how great you are, you're still not good enough almost. They have to continually work to get better, so it's a completely different mind-set and mentality.

“But I think that helps her here because nothing is ever quite good enough for her. She always wants to get better and better. She is just really unique. She is confident, but she's humble, which is a very good mix. When she gets ready to go out there and compete, there is no arrogance at all. It's just wonderful.”

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