Gymnastics faces No. 5 Bama
Published: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 12:14 a.m.
Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn has one simple request of Gator fans regarding tonight's dual meet with two-time defending NCAA champion Alabama at 7 in the O'Connell Center.
“We definitely want to have that arena packed just like it was, really even more than it was, at our Link to Pink meet,” she said. “Our athletes really feed off of that. They feel the energy, and they really do perform better because that's what they live to do is perform.”
Two weeks ago before an O'Dome crowd of 8,159 — the sixth-largest in program history — UF (4-1, 3-1) posted a winning score of 197.650 in downing Southeastern Conference foe Auburn that still ranks as the top score in the nation this year and vaulted Florida to the nation's No. 1 ranking.
The top-ranked Gators cemented that spot by posting the nation's second-highest score of 197.575 in toppling No. 22 Arkansas on the road last week for their third straight SEC dual-meet win.
In that victory, senior Ashanee Dickerson and freshman Bridget Sloan shared the all-around title, with Dickerson recording her 16th collegiate all-around win while Sloan grabbed her first.
“I'm really excited for Bridget,” Faehn said. “She put together an excellent competition last week. What was great about it was that it was our second road competition and she definitely stepped up and did an amazing set everywhere.”
Now comes one of the biggest dual meets in the nation this year.
No. 5 Alabama (3-1, 3-1) suffered its first loss of the year on the road at No. 6 Georgia last Saturday before a sellout crowd of 9,924 at Stegeman Coliseum.
There will no doubt be an underlying sense of redemption on the minds of the Gators, who appeared to have done enough to win that elusive first NCAA title last year, only to painfully watch as Alabama pulled out its second straight and sixth overall crown by the slimmest margin (0.075) in history.
“As a team, I think we all went home on our own and were upset about coming in second at NCAAs,” said UF sophomore All-American Kytra Hunter, who won the individual NCAA all-around and vault titles and was the 2012 Honda Award winner as the nation's top gymnast.
“We all had the same mindset at the end of the year banquet.”
Since 2003 — Faehn's first year with the Gators — UF and Bama have squared off 10 times in dual meets, and the home team has prevailed every time (5-5).
That 2003 UF win, however, was Florida's first against the Tide since 1989, with Bama winning every dual meet with the Gators from 1990-2002.
In addition, Alabama and Florida have combined to win the last four SEC titles, and the Tide and Gators are both ranked in the top 10 nationally in every event.
Need more? Last year, the Tide handed the Gators their only dual-meet loss, but UF responded by winning the SEC Championship.
Then came the NCAAs, where Florida was a mere Bama wobble away from its first title.
It all makes for great theater tonight, but with four more dual meets to follow before the all-important postseason begins with the 2013 SEC Championships March 23, Faehn's main goal is simply to keep her deep and talented squad grounded and focused.
“It's still really early in the season, so our goal is just to go out and compete,” she said. “It's irrelevant whom we're competing against. We're trying to do better than last weekend's meet and look towards what our lineups are going to be.”