National champion Florida gymnasts return home to cheers

The 2013 National Championship trophy on a table during the Championship Celebration for the Gators 2013 NCCA Gymnastics National Championship, at the O'Connell Center, in Gainesville Monday April 22, 2013. Along with the national championship the Gators won several individual titles, Bridget Sloan won an individual championship as well as won beam, while Alaina Johnson won the uneven bars.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 10:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 10:13 p.m.
After a cross-country flight from California, the newly crowned NCAA champion Florida women's gymnastics team returned home to a heroic welcome. The team bus received a police escort to the O'Connell Center, where the Gators were honored as the first gymnastics team in school history to win an NCAA title. “Today, it has definitely sunk in,” said Florida junior gymnast Mackenzie Caquatto. “Saturday night, it was a little unreal to all of us. It is something we worked for, for so long. And especially for the seniors, being here four years, and working for that title. It's like a cherry on the cake for them.”

About 300 fans attended the Monday night ceremony, which included brief remarks from University of Florida President Bernie Machen. “We could have done without the drama of the first round,” Machen joked. “But we are so proud of all that you were able to accomplish for our school and our community.” Florida rallied to shake off three falls in its first seven routines to win the national title on Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus. “We're so close, we're like sisters,” Florida senior gymnast Marissa King said. “I think the closeness and the bond as a team is what projected out on the floor, and that's how we won.” Florida gymnastics coach Rhonda Faehn also addressed the crowd at the ceremony, thanking the community and school for its support. In her 11th season at Florida, Faehn finally broke through to win the national title at UCLA, her alma mater. In those 11 seasons, Faehn has led the Gators to eight top-five finishes, including last season's NCAA runner-up finish. “After the championship, I had so much emotion because it was a combination of 11 years of work, such a task of building up to that,” Faehn said. Several Florida gymnasts said the runner-up finish in 2012 was what helped drive the Gators to the title in 2013. In 2012, Alabama edged Florida by .75 points. “This year from Day 1, everyone walked in the gym, even as freshmen, determined to get that trophy,” Caquatto said. “Day in and day out, we busted our butts. We conditioned extra, we stayed extra long hours.” Florida concluded the ceremony by unveiling its 2013 NCAA championship banner, which will hang from the rafters of the O'Dome. “So many of them felt that pain from last year, from being so close and leaving without that national title,” Faehn said. “They were going to make sure that wasn't going to happen again. “No one cared who was going to get the glory. All season long someone else was trading titles for this or that. There was never any jealousies, never anything else that brought us apart. It was a real tight group and that's really hard to come by. It's very special. They were that team.”

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