Gators' perfect streak persists at Link to Pink
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 21, 2014 at 11:54 p.m.
Another tough opponent, another solid performance, another perfect score and another big win.
It's beginning to sound like a broken record for defending NCAA champion Florida.
Led by junior All-American Kytra Hunter's second straight 10 on vault that capped a season-high team mark of 49.525 on UF's opening event, the second-ranked Gators posted the fourth-highest team score in program history en route to downing third-ranked LSU 198.125-197.625 Friday night.
An O'Connell Center crowd of 9,197 — the fifth-largest all-time — turned out for the eighth edition of UF's Link to Pink night in honor of breast cancer awareness, and the Gators had them whipped into a frenzy by the end of the meet.
“That was a lot of fun,” senior All-American Alaina Johnson said. “I am so glad that we have a meet where we can support the survivors and go out there and just do it for them. It means a lot, and the crowd was amazing like always.”
UF athletes won four of the five titles awarded, with Hunter taking the vault and the floor exercise, the latter with a 9.975, while sophomore All-American Bridget Sloan took home the balance beam (9.95) and all-around titles (39.70), edging LSU junior All-American Rheagan Courville (39.675).
Courville and LSU teammate Sarie Morrison shared the uneven bars title with matching 9.95s.
“It was another amazing night,” Sloan said. “I think what made tonight so special was obviously Link to Pink. It is very emotional for some people who come to see us, and it's nice to show that we do support them and to just keep fighting. Obviously we fight out there, but they have a totally different fight in life.”
UF meets are notorious for being close, with Friday's action marking the 26th time a half-point or less has separated the two SEC rivals.
UF (7-0, 5-0) was actually trailing by .050 at the halfway point, but moved ahead by .075 after recording a season-high 49.550 on beam.
That left it up to the final event, which for LSU (7-3, 3-2) was beam and for UF was floor.
Beam has been the Tigers' weakest event this season, and it proved to be so again as they could only muster a score of 49.225 while UF, a strong floor squad, pumped out its second-best mark of the season with a 49.650 to secure the half-point win.
“It definitely pushes us, and we honestly need that pressure so that we can experience it now before the postseason,” said Hunter, the 2012 NCAA vault champion who now has four 10s this year (two on floor, two on vault) and joins former UF standout Susan Hines, the 1997-98 NCAA vault champ, as the only Gators to record perfect marks on the vault in back-to-back meets.
“It was an incredible meet. I mean, they (LSU) did an incredible job. We gave each other competition, and that's what makes it so much fun, makes the score so tight and makes the audience even more excited to watch us.”
Johnson, meanwhile, had her best meet of the season. She tied her season-highs on both vault (9.925) and floor (9.925), the latter tying her collegiate-best mark, and finished third in the all-around with a season-high 39.650 that was just .025 off her collegiate-best.
“We're just getting better each week and working extremely hard in the gym, and it's definitely showing on the competition floor,” Johnson said.
Coach Rhonda Faehn was all smiles afterward.
“To see that our athletes responded the way they did and knowing that we did great, but everybody knows where we can get better,” she said. “There were really positives on every front.
“It was everything that we were looking for. It was an incredible crowd first of all, and that's the first step because our athletes just really feed off of that. What an amazing crowd for such an amazing cause.”