Top-ranked Gators ready to go big at NCAAs


Florida's Marissa King, the 2011 NCAA vault champion, is anticipating a good weekend in Duluth, Ga.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, April 20, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 5:58 p.m.

Is this the year?

Facts

2012 NCAA Championships

When: Today-Sunday
Where: The Arena at Gwinnett Center, Duluth, Ga.
Semifinal 1: Today, noon — UCLA, Oklahoma, Nebraska, LSU, Stanford and Utah
Semifinal 2: Today, 6 p.m. — Top-seeded Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Ohio State and Oregon State
NCAA Super Six: Saturday, 4 p.m. — The top three teams from each semifinal determine the national champion.
Individual competition: Sunday
Broadcast: ESPN3 will show the NCAA Super Six live and the meet will air tape-delayed on ESPNU May 2 at 8:30 p.m.

Top-ranked Florida is one of 12 teams in Duluth, Ga., for the 2012 NCAA Championships this weekend. That is nothing new for the tradition-rich Gators, who have qualified 30 times in the last 31 years (all but 2000) for the national championships since the NCAA began sanctioning gymnastics in 1982.




For just the second time, however, Florida is the No. 1 seed. The Gators, who shared the top seed with Utah in 2007, won their eighth Southeastern Conference Championship as well as their 12th NCAA regional title earlier this year.

But the grand prize has always eluded them.

Considering four programs — Utah, UCLA, Alabama and Georgia — have combined to win the 30 previous NCAA titles, Florida has plenty of company. But UF (17-1) is more determined than ever to add its name to that exclusive list.

After disappointing finishes the past two years, head coach Rhonda Faehn opted to change things up a little, taking advantage of a deep and talented squad to frequently juggle the lineup and rest some of her top athletes.

“The biggest difference is they really seem fresh mentally,” Faehn said. “Being fresh physically was, of course, the goal with our schedule all season long, but we've never encountered this much excitement and playfulness at this time in the past years. It's always been challenging for them physically and mentally because they were so drained from the season. With a different strategy this year, I feel they are extremely excited and feel like ‘Let's get this going right now.' I feel like it's a really great place for them to be.”

“I think the team is holding up really well,” said freshman Kytra Hunter, the 2012 SEC All-Around champion. “We're really excited about this meet. We are ranked number one, and it's not like any pressure or anything. We just need to go out there and treat it like a regular meet and just do what we know how to do. Every meet, we've had one or two good events, so I think for NCAAs we just need to put all four together, and if we do, we'll do great.”

The 12-team field will be narrowed to the Super Six after today's two semifinal sessions. UF, one of five SEC teams to make this year's field, appears in the evening session at 6 p.m. along with three of the other SEC teams — No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Georgia and No. 8 Arkansas. They will be joined by No. 9 Oregon State and No. 12 Ohio State.

Semifinal I begins at noon and consists of three other conference champions — Pac-12 champ and No. 2 UCLA, Big 12 champ and No. 3 Oklahoma and Big Ten champ and No. 6 Nebraska — as well as No. 7 Utah, No. 10 Stanford and No. 11 LSU.

The top three teams from each semifinal will compete in Saturday's NCAA Super Six. Since the two-day format began in 1993, UF has made nine appearances in the Super Six, including six of the last eight years, having missed in 2005 and 2011.

The Gators recorded their top NCAA finish of second place in 1998.

“It's going to be a great weekend, I can already feel it,” said junior and six-time All-American Marissa King, the 2011 NCAA vault champion. “We're going into this competition with the aspect of just having fun and not holding back. We have to go in aggressive and go big — just do things the way we know how to do them.”

Live stats from tonight's semifinal will be available at www.gatorzone.com, while both the Super Six, which begins Saturday at 4 p.m., and Sunday's individual championships at 1 p.m., will be streamed live on ESPN3.

Faehn noted her squad, which has been ranked No. 1 in the last six consecutive polls and has posted three of the nation's top five scores this year, is embracing the role of favorite.

“Instead of it being a target, this team is different from any other team we've had,” she said. “This is what they expect. They expect to be number one and go in there and perform the way they've performed all year long.

“Our whole philosophy is go big or go home. That's something we've carried all year long, to not compete tight and just go aggressive no matter what. You put it all out there, and that's just what they're prepared to do.”

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