Hunter, Gators dazzle in Link to Pink meet


Published: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 12:28 a.m.

Like the Energizer Bunny, Kytra Hunter just keeps going and going.

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Florida sophomore Kytra Hunter competes on the vault during the 7th Annual Link to Pink meet against Auburn on Friday night.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer

The Florida sophomore, who won the NCAA all-around and vault titles and the 2012 Honda Award as the nation's best collegiate gymnast as a true freshman, won three individual event titles and the all-around crown in a dazzling display of talent Friday to lead the third-ranked Gators to a season-high score in a 197.650-196.025 win over No. 18 Auburn in UF's 7th Annual Link to Pink meet.

Performing before an O'Connell Center crowd of 8,159 that was the sixth-largest in program history, Hunter started off with a 9.975 that matched her collegiate best en route to winning the vault and never looked back, adding titles in the balance beam (9.90) and floor exercise (9.925) while posting a winning all-around mark of 39.70 that is the second-best of her college career and is tied for the No. 6 all-time UF mark.

“She's a machine,” UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. “It's just automatic for her. She's so focused and again, very aggressive. That was probably one of her better beam routines, and her vault was just awesome. I'm just really impressed again with her mental toughness.

“The crowd was incredible. We've always said that when the audience is full and there's so much energy, our athletes perform better because they just feed off that.”

Hunter not only fed off the O'Dome energy, she feasted on it, winning every event except the uneven bars, where she tied for third.

“We're not just competing for ourselves at Link to Pink, we're also competing for a cause,” she said. “For those of us who know people who have battled cancer or lost someone, it's fun to have those angels watching us compete. All those extra people did make for a lot of adrenaline.”

The Gators (3-1, 2-1) literally jumped out to an early lead, scoring a season-high 49.625 on their opening event, the vault, led by Hunter's winning 9.975 that followed three successive 9.925s by teammates Marissa King, Bridget Sloan and Ashanee Dickerson.

The team mark for the event is the second-highest in program history and just .025 off the school record (49.650) set in 2004 against UCLA.

“I think what really started the night was when we started to stick vaults back-to-back,” Hunter said. “That really got us pumped up, and it carried on through the whole meet.”

Sloan and fellow freshman Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto followed up by sharing the uneven bars title with matching scores of 9.925 as UF posted a 49.525 mark that is its second-best in the event this season.

It was the first actual competition of her college career for Dancose-Giambattisto, a two-time member of the Canadian National Team who performed an exhibition bars last week against Missouri.

“She's a natural bar swinger with incredible extension and toe-point,” Faehn said, adding that the routine included a new dismount she had only recently learned. “For her to do something new and be in the pressure of the lineup was really impressive and says a lot about her mental toughness.”

Hunter picked up her second title of the night on the balance beam with a 9.90, leading UF to a season-high score of 49.275 in that event.

Appropriately enough, she was the last competitor of the night, and scored a 9.925 on the floor exercise to win her third event and give Florida a sweep of the individual titles.

Hunter also led a 1-2-3 all-around sweep for UF. Dickerson was second with a 39.525, and Sloan (39.425) was third in her first all-around competition as a Gator.

Auburn (0-6, 0-3), which also posted a season-high team score, was led by sophomore Bri Guy and freshman Caitlin Atkinson who tied for fourth in the all-around with a score of 39.250. In addition, junior Abbey Habicht from Maitland recorded a 9.775 on the bars and a 9.80 on the beam.

Next up, UF will try and pick up its first SEC road win of the year when the Gators travel to Arkansas on Friday before returning home Feb. 8 to face two-time defending NCAA champion Alabama.

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