UF gymnastics plays host to NCAA regional

Florida senior Ashanee Dickerson will make her final appearance in the O'Connell Center tonight.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, April 5, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 12:39 a.m.

Senior Ashanee Dickerson is not concerned with the fact that tonight's NCAA Gainesville Regional will be her final appearance in the O'Connell Center.


NCAA Gainesville Regional

Who: No. 1 UF, No. 12 Auburn, No. 12 Minnesota, No. 24 Maryland, No. 29 Bridgeport and No. 36 Pittsburgh.
When: 6 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center

“I know it's my last home meet, but it's just a step toward our goal at the end of the year,” said the eight-time All-American from Jacksonville. “We have to get past here to make it to nationals, so I'm just going to look at it like any other meet. I'm just going to go out there and have fun and enjoy it.”

That formula has certainly worked well for the top-ranked Gators to this point. UF has scored 198 or more as a team three times this year, highlighted by a school-record 198.425 mark on March 1.

Coming into the season, Florida had only hit the 198 plateau twice in program history.

In addition, the Gators are coming off their first back-to-back SEC titles since 1984-85 as well as their third league crown in the last four years.

Faehn, the SEC Coach of the Year, also has the luxury of having a strong group of senior leaders led by lineup regulars Dickerson, Marissa King and Randy Stageberg as well as classmate Dali Lemezan, a regular her first two seasons who has seen limited action since tearing her left ACL at the 2011 NCAA Championships.

“Looking back at the SEC Championships, our seniors did a tremendous job just keeping that energy throughout, and you could see it in Marissa, Ashanee and Randy,” Faehn said. “I think they're going to love and appreciate every moment, because they've been through it.

“Senior Night in the O'Dome, that was incredible and very emotional, but I told them, ‘You still have one more time,' so I know they're just going to go out and have a blast.”

Action starts at 6 p.m., with Nos. 12 (tie) Auburn and Minnesota as well as No. 24 Maryland, No. 29 Bridgeport and No. 36 Pittsburgh joining No. 1 UF in the six-team field.

In addition, five all-around competitors who qualified as individuals and one individual event specialist per event will compete.

As the top seed, UF will enjoy the same rotation it enjoys at home meets, starting on vault and following with uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. However, with six teams competing, each team receives two byes, with Florida's coming after its first (vault) and third (beam) events.

“After vault, we have a little bit of downtime, which is actually nice,” Faehn said. “The girls actually enjoy that a little bit. It gives them time to get their grips on (for bars) and not have to rush getting over there, and then the bye before floor gives them a little break.”

The other notable difference for fans will be that the competition is held on a podium, or raised floor, as are all postseason events.

The top two teams tonight will advance to the NCAA Championships in Los Angeles on April 19-21, where they will join the top two teams from the other five regionals.

UF, which has won 12 NCAA regional titles — seven of them in the last eight years under Faehn — has advanced to the championships every year except one (2000) since the NCAA began sanctioning the sport in 1982.

“The hardest part coming up to this is the waiting time,” Faehn said. “We were so pumped after SECs and then had to take it down and then build it back up. We're in our home arena, they're comfortable with the equipment, and that's a benefit.

“The focus, of course, is going to be the same thing we've done all year, which is taking it one step at a time, starting out on vault and staying aggressive by hitting those landings, and then carrying that momentum on through the rest of the meet.”


Florida Gators

Coach: Rhonda Faehn, 11th year

National ranking: No. 1

Regional qualifying score: 197.840

Regional seed: No. 1

Conference/finish: Southeastern, 1st

Top performers: Ashanee Dickerson, Sr.; Marissa King, Sr.; Randy Stageberg, Sr.; Mackenzie Caquatto, Jr.; Kytra Hunter, So; Bridget Sloan, Fr.

The skinny: The host Gators are talented, deep and hungry. Ever since missing out on the program's first NCAA title last year by less than a tenth of a point (0.075) to SEC rival Alabama, Florida has been focused on grabbing the crown. The Gators beat the two-time defending NCAA champ Crimson Tide twice already this season, once in a dual meet and again two weeks ago for the SEC title. In front of what will be a large and supportive crowd, top-ranked UF will be tough to beat.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Coach: Meg Stephenson, 4th year

National ranking: No. 12 (tie)

Regional qualifying score: 196.615

Regional seed: No. 2

Conference/finish: Big Ten, 3rd

Top performers: Shannon Golich, Sr.; Janell Campbell, Sr.; Kala Slechta, Jr.; Kylie Schermann, So; Lindsay Maple, Fr.

The skinny: The Golden Gophers, who are in their 18th straight regional, are making their second appearance in the O'Connell Center this year, having provided the opposition the night Florida set a school-record score of 198.425. Meg Stephenson is in her fourth year as head coach of the Gophers after serving the previous 11 years (1999-2009) as co-head coach with her husband, Jim. Minnesota last advanced to the NCAA Championships in 2002 but could well end that drought tonight.

Auburn Tigers

Coach: Jeff Graba, 3rd year

National ranking: No. 12 (tie)

Regional qualifying score: 196.615

Regional seed: No. 3

Conference/finish: Southeastern, 5th

Top performers: Petrina Yokay, Sr.; Toi Garcia, Sr.; Bri Guy, So.; Caitlin Atkinson, Fr.

The skinny: The Tigers, in their 11th straight regional and 24th overall, continued their improvement under Graba, scoring a program-record 196.550 at this year's SEC Championships en route to matching their best league finish. Auburn is young, with just two seniors and a core of rising talent led by sophomore Bri Guy and freshman Caitlin Atkinson, who joined senior Petrina Yokay in earning All-SEC honors. A top-two finish would net the Tigers their first NCAA Championship berth since 2003.

Maryland Terrapins

Coach: Brett Nelligan, 4th year

National ranking: No. 24

Regional qualifying score: 195.810

Regional seed: No. 4

Conference/finish: East Atlantic Gymnastics League, 2nd

Top performers: Kesley Cofsky, Sr.; Ally Krikorian, Sr.; Katy Dodds, Jr.; Stephanie Giameo, So.

The skinny: The Terps, who are making their fifth straight regional appearance and 19th overall, last competed in a regional in Gainesville in 2001. That year they posted a score of 195.850 that still ranks as the all-time best program mark in NCAA competition. Maryland is still looking to advance to the NCAA Championships for the first time, having finished third twice (1989, 2001). Former UF gymnast and seven-time All-American Erinn Dooley (2002-05) is an assistant coach with the Terps.

Bridgeport Purple Knights

Coach: Byron Knox, 9th year

National ranking: No. 29

Regional qualifying score: 195.485

Regional seed: No. 5

Conference/finish: Eastern College Athletic, 1st

Top performers: Monica Messalles Sallares, Sr.; Lissette La Fex, Jr.; Melissa Doucette, Jr.; Sasha Tsikhanovich, So.

The skinny: The Purple Knights have already made history, becoming just the second non-Division I institution to receive an invitation to the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Regionals as a team since the current non-divisional format (no NCAA Division I, II or III championship, just a single championship) was implemented in 1987. In addition, Bridgeport's 195.485 RQS and No. 29 national ranking are also all-time bests for the Division II program.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Coach: Debbie Yohman, 27th year

National ranking: No. 36

Regional qualifying score: 195.065

Regional seed: No. 6

Conference/finish: East Atlantic Gymnastics League, 3rd

Top performers: Alyssa Adrian, Sr.; Katie O'Rourke, Jr.; Laura Kummerle, Fr.; Lindsay Offutt, Fr.

The skinny: The Panthers are making their first NCAA regional appearance since 2007, and their third-place EAGL finish was their best since 2000. Veteran head coach Debbie Yohman has led the Pitt program for the last 27 years, and this is one of her youngest teams. The Panthers are one of three teams in this regional who have yet to reach the NCAA Championships, and they'll try to snare that elusive first berth with a young team led by a strong freshman class.

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