Gators excited about chance to defend NCAA title
Published: Friday, April 18, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 18, 2014 at 12:19 a.m.
Just like 31 of the previous 32 Florida gymnastics teams before them (all but 2000), the 2014 UF squad has advanced to the NCAA Championships.
Unlike any of their predecessors, however, these Gators come in as the defending NCAA champions.
“I think right now what our team is feeling is just great excitement,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “I mean, this is what we've worked for all season long. We've really tried to pace the athletes, taking one meet at a time, and it's been an incredible journey so far.
“We've had so many great memories from just the season itself, and now that we've qualified for the national championships, we're just looking at it one day at a time, really.”
The three-day meet, being held this year in Birmingham, Ala., at the 14,000-seat Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, begins today at 2 p.m. with the first of two semifinals featuring No. 2 (seed) Oklahoma, No. 3 LSU, No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 Michigan, No. 10 Stanford and No. 11 Illinois.
Tonight, UF, the No. 1 seed for the third straight year, will be joined in the second semifinal by host and No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Utah, No. 8 UCLA, No. 9 Nebraska and No. 12 Penn State.
The top three teams from each semifinal move on to the Super Six competition Saturday at 7 p.m. to decide the national title, with the meet concluding with the individual event finals Sunday at 3 p.m.
“You have to just think about going out there and doing the best routine that you can, and when we do that, we always come out with a great score,” said sophomore All-American and reigning NCAA all-around and balance beam champion Bridget Sloan. “I think our mentality this time is just going to be all about going out there and just having fun.
“You know, we always emphasize, especially Rhonda emphasizes, on how much better we do when we’re having fun, when we are taking in every moment and live for the moment. It’ll just be one of those things that when we get out there, we won’t be thinking about the crowd. It'll just be us in our little bubble doing our routines.”
Junior All-American Kytra Hunter, the 2012 NCAA all-around and vault champion who has posted a school-record six perfect scores this season (two vault, four floor), echoed those sentiments.
“It’s (repeating) in the back of our minds, but we’re not thinking about that when we do gymnastics,” she said. “We have to think that every competition is a new competition and it’s also the same competition, too. We’re doing the same routines with our same team, so we just need to remember the little corrections that the coaches gave us. Having that running through our minds has definitely helped us with every competition.”
Faehn noted this year's squad has already proven to be special.
“This is an incredible team,” she said. “They have worked so hard all year. What I really love about this team is that they have taken ownership that this is a new year, but it's an absolutely incredible group of talented athletes that have the desire and the discipline to do the best that they can. It's just an amazing group of athletes that are having so much fun.
“They just have that sheer ability to give it absolutely everything and leave nothing on the table, which I really, really respect about this team. They are not going to hold back.”
Both of today's semifinal sessions will be streamed live on NCAA.com, with Saturday's Super Six and Sunday's individual finals streamed live on ESPN3.
The meet will air tape-delayed on ESPNU on April 30 at 8 p.m.