UF gymnastics looks to raise bar at NCAAs

Kytra Hunter and the Florida gymnastics team came up just short at last season's NCAA Championships, narrowly losing to Alabama.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 6:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 7:19 p.m.


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What: 2013 NCAA Gymnastics Championships
Where: New Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
When: Friday-Sunday
Television: Meet airs tape-delayed on ESPNU on April 30 at 8 p.m.

Friday's Session I (3 p.m.) — No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 LSU, No. 8 Minnesota, No. 9 Stanford and No. 12 Illinois
Friday's Session II (9 p.m.) — No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Alabama, No. 6 UCLA, No. 7 Michigan, No. 10 Utah and No. 11 Arkansas
Saturday: Super Six (top three in each session advance to team final), 7 p.m.
Sunday: Individual event finals, 4 p.m.

There have been 31 championships awarded since the NCAA began sanctioning women's gymnastics in 1982, yet only four programs — Alabama, UCLA, Utah and Georgia — can claim to be national champions. The Florida Gators hope to add their names to that elite list when the 2013 NCAA Championships get underway Friday in Los Angeles, and head coach Rhonda Faehn is confident her No. 1-ranked team will respond to its final challenge the same way it has to every previous one this season. “What makes this team a little bit different is that they are very adaptable,” Faehn said. “This team has overcome so many things and has the mental toughness and the physical toughness to endure whatever is thrown at them, so that is, in a sense, something different that we've had in the past.” The latest challenge came prior to the Gainesville Regional on April 6.

In practice leading up to the meet, UF lost the services of senior standout Randy Stageberg, one of Florida's top balance beam and floor exercise performers, to a dislocated shoulder. Then, junior standout Mackenzie Caquatto had an emergency root canal the night before the competition and was questionable up to the last minute. But just as when junior All-American Alaina Johnson was out for more than two months with a stress fracture (back) or when sophomore Kiersten Wang fractured a finger, someone stepped up. In this case it was senior All-American Marissa King on beam (9.95) and freshman Bridgette Caquatto on floor (9.925), each posting collegiate-best marks as UF tallied a team score of 198.400 that was not only the highest mark of any of the six regional winners, but was just .025 off the school-record mark (198.425) set March 1 in a dual meet with Minnesota. “We've all been very excited about this competition to say the least,” said Bridget Sloan, the 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year and one of the nation's top three all-arounders (No. 2) along with sophomore All-American Kytra Hunter (No. 3). “I think it's going to be a great competition. Our team has the depth and the chemistry — we've got it all right now.” This is the second straight year Florida has entered as the No. 1 seed. Last year, UF tied a program-best (1998) with its runner-up finish, losing to Alabama by only .075 in the closest finish in meet history. Just a tenth of a point separated the top three teams (Bama, UF and UCLA). “My heart just sank,” senior All-American Ashanee Dickerson recalled. “We were so close.” UF will take part in Session I on Friday, which begins at 3 p.m., where the Gators will be joined by No. 4 seed Georgia, No. 5 seed LSU, No. 8 seed Minnesota, No. 9 seed Stanford and No. 12 seed Illinois. Session II, which begins at 9 p.m., will feature No. 2 seed Oklahoma, No. 3 seed and two-time defending champ Alabama, No. 6 seed and host UCLA, No. 7 seed Michigan, No. 10 seed Utah and No. 11 seed Arkansas. The top three teams from each session will advance to Saturday's Super Six competition, where the national title will be decided beginning at 7 p.m. The individual championships will take place Sunday at 4 p.m.

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