Florida gymnastics earns a trip to NCAA meet

Florida gymnast Marissa King runs to celebrate with head coach Rhonda Faehn after performing on the floor during the NCAA Regionals on Saturday. Florida won the meet to advance to the NCAA Championships.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Check off one more item on Florida's 2013 to-do list. Top-ranked UF flexed its muscle early and often Saturday before an O'Connell Center crowd of 7,137 as the Gators claimed the NCAA Gainesville Regional title to advance to this year's national championship in Los Angeles later this month. Florida, the No. 1 regional seed, cruised to its 13th NCAA regional title overall and eighth in the last nine years under coach Rhonda Faehn with a winning score of 198.400. The mark ranks No. 2 all-time at UF, just .025 short of the school-record 198.425 UF scored in a dual meet win over Minnesota on March 1.

In addition to the team win, Florida athletes won or shared every event title in another dominating display while the Gators set or tied their second-highest marks of the season on each of the four events. “Tonight was absolutely incredible,” Faehn said. “I was so proud of how the entire team stepped up and performed.” Leading the way was sophomore All-American Kytra Hunter who won the all-around title with a 39.775 mark and shared wins on the vault (9.95) and floor exercise (9.95). “Everyone just stayed in their bubble, and we pushed each other whether we went first or last,” said Hunter, who is the reigning NCAA all-around and vault champion. “It was a fun night tonight with the home crowd.” Hunter was one of three Gators in the all-around competition, and led a 1-2-3 finish with freshman Bridget Sloan (39.675) second and senior All-American Marissa King, who was competing in the all-around for the first time since Feb. 16, matching her collegiate-best to place third with a 39.65. King closed out her night in style, winning the balance beam with a collegiate-best tying 9.95 and then sharing the floor title with Hunter with a winning 9.95 mark. “It was really great to be able to do that now, especially going into NCAAs,” King said. “I'm very happy to be doing all-around again.” Sloan won the uneven bars with a 9.975 that tied her collegiate-best, while Hunter and senior All-American Ashanee Dickerson shared the vault title with Minnesota's Jenny Covers and Lindsay Mable and Auburn's Bri Guy, all with matching 9.95s. In addition, UF junior All-American Alaina Johnson, who had been sidelined with a stress fracture in her back since competing in the third meet of the year Jan. 18, returned to action and posted a 9.925 on the vault and a 9.875 on the uneven bars to help the Gators get off to a great start. The Gators have now advanced to the NCAA Championships every year but one (2000) in the event's 32-year history (1982-present). Joining UF in advancing was No. 2 seed Minnesota, which finished with a team score of 197.100 to edge No. 3 seed Auburn (196.70) for runner-up honors, earning the Golden Gophers their first NCAA Championship appearance since 2002. “It feels just fantastic,” Minnesota coach Meg Stephenson said. “Really from the summer, we felt like this group had what it takes to make it. I've been saying all year long they're the real deal, so it feels great to have them be rewarded.” Rounding out the scoring were No. 24 Maryland (195.575), No. 36 Pittsburgh (194.775) and No. 29 Bridgeport (194.225). Now it's on to the NCAAs on April 19-21, when the Gators hope to make their final check mark and claim that elusive first national title. “They all came out and they were just lights out,” Faehn said of her athletes. “They were on fire in all four events, but it was not just the gymnastics, but the heart and the passion, the fighting through all the circumstances and not letting it affect their performance. It was just taking care of business.”

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