Top-ranked Gators still looking to improve

Senior Alaina Johnson returned to all-around competition in last week's meet at Kentucky.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, February 14, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 at 12:08 a.m.

The top-ranked Florida gymnastics team is back home in the O’Connell Center to host No. 11 Arkansas in Southeastern Conference dual-meet action tonight at 7.


Today's meet

Who: No. 11 Arkansas (3-3, 1-3 SEC) at No. 1 Florida (5-0, 3-0)
When: 7 p.m.
Tickets: $5 adults; children 17 and under and UF students with Gator 1 card admitted free.

UF (5-0, 3-0) is coming off a solid 197.175-195.45 road win over Kentucky that was highlighted by sophomore All-American Bridget Sloan’s perfect score on the balance beam, just the second 10 in the event in program history (Kristen Stucky, 2004).

The Gators’ team score was their highest in three road meets this season and third-highest overall behind their winning marks of 198.050 and 197.875 posted in UF’s respective home wins over Georgia and Oklahoma prior to the Kentucky road trip.

“It was just an overall great meet,” said junior All-American Kytra Hunter, who won both the vault and floor exercise events against the Wildcats. “It just shows how great of a team we are. We just want to keep peaking, keep surprising people and show people what we have.”

Sloan’s beam score was the fourth 10 of the season for the defending NCAA champions, setting a single-season record despite last week’s meet being just the midpoint.

But it’s the team’s steady, week-to-week overall improvement that has coach Rhonda Faehn excited, highlighted by the Gators starting to finish off their routines with more stuck landings.

“It’s the natural progression that we’ve been looking for, knowing that Kentucky was our halfway point of the regular season,” Faehn said. “That was something that during the first four meets of the season maybe we got on one event but really were not dialing in those stuck landings everywhere.”

The win over the Wildcats also marked the return to all-around competition of senior All-American Alaina Johnson, who missed eight meets last season due to a stress fracture in her lower back.

“It was really wonderful to get Alaina out there on floor,” Faehn said. “It’s the first time she’s done all-around since January of last year, and she really did a great job. She did the best in the other three events that she’s done all year and then did floor for the first time and did a great job, so I was really proud of her getting out there and doing all-around.”

The fact the Gators haven’t missed a beat despite changing up the personnel for each competition demonstrates UF’s talent level.

“It really just means that we’re very strong as a team,” said Sloan, who picked up her fourth consecutive SEC Gymnast of the Week honors. “We have so much fun. We literally have a blast out there and we love competing. We do our best when we’re having fun, and we’re all very excited about this weekend.”

Tonight’s meet will feature the top two individuals in the nation in the all-around in Sloan, who is ranked No. 1 and has won four straight all-around titles, and senior All-American Katherine Grable of Arkansas (3-3, 1-3), who is ranked No. 2 and has collected five consecutive all-around wins.

“At the halfway point, I’m absolutely thrilled with where our team is,” Faehn said. “I feel like they are not only confident and consistent but are competing aggressively, and we’re really following the plan that we’ve had set from the beginning.

“We started out a little bit slower, not focusing on getting all the stuck landings but really trying to allow the athletes to rest when they need to and not pushing them right from the start. We still have another five dual meets, and then we have SECs, regionals and nationals. These athletes need to feel fresh, like it’s almost the start of the season at the end of the season. We’ve done a really great job of managing that.”

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