Johnson off to strong start for Gator gymnastics
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:45 p.m.
She's at it again.
Who: No. 18 Auburn (0-5, 0-2 SEC) at No. 3 Florida (2-1, 1-1)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center
Tickets: $4 for adults, while children 17 and under and UF students with a Gator1 card are admitted free
One of Florida's top all-around performers each of the past two seasons, soft-spoken junior Alaina Johnson is off to another solid start for this year's third-ranked Gators.
In 10 events heading into tonight's 7th annual Link to Pink meet with Auburn in the O'Connell Center, Johnson, from Tyler, Texas, has scored a 9.8 or better eight times.
While she's yet to add more event titles to the 14 that she had coming into the season — a mark tied for second on UF's talent-laden 2013 squad — she has six top-three finishes, including four second places.
Two of the latter came in last week's home win over Missouri. Her 9.875 was runner-up to senior Ashanee Dickerson's winning 9.90 mark on the floor exercise, and Johnson's 9.95 on the uneven bars was only eclipsed by teammate Mackenzie Caquatto's perfect 10.
“I'm enjoying every minute of it,” Johnson said. “I know I would not be happier anywhere else. I love my teammates and I love my coaches, and we all get along extremely well. We're all like a big family.”
Johnson earned the maximum of five All-America honors in 2012, joining teammate Kytra Hunter as the only athletes at the 2012 NCAA Championships to do so.
En route, she shared the NCAA Raleigh Regional vault and bars titles with Dickerson and also was the SEC bars champion, earning her second straight, first-team All-SEC honor while helping the Gators win their eighth SEC Championship and second in the last three seasons.
A member of the 2012 SEC Academic Honor Roll, Johnson also shared last year's “Heart & Soul Award” with Dickerson at UF's annual awards banquet.
All that after earning three first-team All-America honors as a freshman, becoming just the second athlete in program history to advance to three NCAA individual event finals (vault, bars, floor) and the first since 1998 (Betsy Hamm).
The low-key Johnson also won the 2011 NCAA North Central Region all-around title, shared first on the vault and was the SEC Freshman of the Year while earning academic All-America kudos and being named UF's “Newcomer of the Year.”
Johnson's eight All-America honors are tied for the most on this year's team with Dickerson, and her impressive list of collegiate-best marks include a 9.95 on the vault (five times), a 9.975 on the bars, and a 9.925 on both the beam (three times) and floor (twice). She's also turned in a collegiate-best all-around score of 39.675 (twice) that is tied for the No. 8 all-time school mark.
“She's been stellar her whole career here,” UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. “Sometimes I think Alaina is short-changed a little bit here or there just because maybe she's not as boisterous as others, but she's an absolutely beautiful performer. I think she's just going to continue to excel as the season goes on.”
Johnson noted her formula for success is simple.
“I definitely stay in a bubble when I'm competing,” she said. “I just focus on what I need to focus on and not anybody else. That's what I've brought here, and that's what works best for me.”
Johnson's first all-around title came at UF's Link to Pink meet two years ago, and she and her teammates will don pink again when the Gators (2-1, 1-1) host the No. 18 Tigers (0-5, 0-2) at 7 p.m. in what is annually one of the Gators' most popular meets. The last four events, in fact, have all attracted O'Dome crowds that rank among the top eight all-time at Florida.
“We're excited to host our annual Link to Pink meet,” Faehn said. “It is an amazing opportunity for both worlds to come together and for us to recognize survivors from our community, but also to raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer and to have an unbelievable gymnastics competition.”