Gators compete for third-straight SEC crown

Florida Gators gymnast Bridget Sloan competes on the beam against the Arkansas Razorbacks in UF's 197.525-196.025 win on Feb. 14.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer/File
Published: Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 21, 2014 at 8:45 p.m.

Fresh off closing out the regular season by posting the nation's highest road score of the year in a 198.20-194.30 win over Missouri, the top-ranked Florida gymnastics team is in Birmingham, Ala., today for the SEC Championships.


Today's SEC meet

Who: No. 1 Florida (9-1, 6-1 SEC) is the top seed.
When: Session I - 3 p.m. (Seeds 5-6-7-8); Session II - 7 p.m. (Seeds 1-2-3-4)
Where: Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex
TV: Tape-delayed ESPNU (Gainesville/Ocala Cox cable channel 1251) on March 27 at 5:30 p.m. and on ESPN2 (Cox cable 27 or 1027) on March 29 at 11 a.m.

The Gators are hunting for their third SEC title in a row as well as their fourth in the last five years.

“This SEC is a little different,” sophomore All-American Bridget Sloan said. “We're going in there not only as the reigning champions, but two-time champions. I think there are a few teams that are gunning for us, but it's one of those things that's a good kind of pressure.”

Six of the nation's top 15 teams, including four in the top 10, will be competing in the eight-team meet, which is divided into two sessions by seeding.

Action begins in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex at 3 p.m. when No. 12 Auburn, No. 15 Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri, the respective No. 5 through No. 8 seeds, compete.

The second session, which starts tonight at 7, features four of the nation's top six squads in No. 1 UF, No. 2 LSU, No. 4 Alabama and No. 6 Georgia, the No. 1 through No. 4 seeds, respectively.

As the top seed, the Gators will be performing in the same order of events as for home meets.

“Our athletes are so excited for this time of the year,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “We're going to be doing the Olympic order rotation (vault-bars-beam-floor), so they're very comfortable with that because that's what we do for every home competition. I know they're really looking forward to it, and I genuinely feel that this team is in a great place mentally and physically.”

This will be the first of two postseason competitions held on podium, the other being the 2014 NCAA Championships.

With this year's NCAAs being held in the exact same spot April 18-20, this weekend's experience is a big plus for everyone competing.

“We're lucky,” junior standout Rachel Spicer said. “Not all the schools, just the ones in the SEC, are going to get that advantage.”

The individual competition should be just as tight as the team battle. Eight of the nation's top-10 all-around performers will be in action, including the top three in Sloan, LSU's Rheagan Courville and Arkansas' Katherine Grable. UF junior All-American Kytra Hunter, who has posted a school-record six 10s this season, is No. 8, while senior All-American Alaina Johnson is No. 10.

Sloan, the reigning SEC Gymnast of the Week (fifth time this season), set a collegiate-best mark of 39.825 in winning her eighth consecutive all-around title in the win over Missouri, a mark that tied the program record set just a week earlier by Johnson.

As a freshman, Sloan shared last year's title with LSU's Courville.

“I've really been looking forward to postseason,” Sloan said. “It was a blast last year, and I have very high expectations for this year.

“Me personally, I won last year, and I'm just going to go in there with the same mindset. It's just another meet, and I'm just going out there and doing my routines, just like you do in practice.”

A UF three-peat would be an impressive accomplishment.

“That would be incredible and that would be amazing, but definitely our focus is not on the end result,” Faehn said. “It's going to be on going out there and having another really positive podium training, getting used to the equipment and carrying that into the competition day. Really, just once again, following what we've done all year long — not hold back, compete aggressively, and just have fun.”

The meet will air on tape-delayed basis on ESPNU on March 27 (5:30 p.m.) and again on ESPN2 on March 29 (11 a.m.). Live stats will be available on GatorZone.com.

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