Gators open SEC slate with home victory

Florida's Grace McLaughlin competes on the beam during a meet against Kentucky at the Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. The Gators beat the Wildcats in their first home meet of the season.

(Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun)
Published: Friday, January 13, 2017 at 11:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 13, 2017 at 11:33 p.m.

An enthusiastic crowd of 7,683 showed up at the Exactech Arena at the O'Connell Center for the Florida gymnastics team's home opener Friday, and they were not disappointed.

The No. 3 Gators placed three athletes in the top four of the all-around competition led by junior Kennedy Baker tying for the event title with Kentucky's Mollie Korth with a score of 39.575 and added a third-place finish from freshman Amelia Hundley (39.500) and a fourth-place finish from sophomore Alicia Boren (39.475) en route to a 197.600-196.950 decision over the 14th-ranked Wildcats.

“I've always loved being in the O-Dome, but just seeing the new version was outstanding,” Baker said. “There was so many people there and it just kept getting more and more full. Running out of the Gator's head I had chills. All the lights and the graphics just made it so much better.”

Making it even sweeter was the fact that UF coach Jenny Rowland, who had been out of town all week attending a judges seminar, showed up midway through the meet and watched her charges move to 2-0 on the young season while the Wildcats slipped to 1-1.

“Really, we trained in a way that the girls were prepared,” Rowland said. “They're self-sufficient. They know what to do, they're golden and they're confident.”

Florida added a first on the vault with junior Rachel Slocum's mark of 9.95, first on the uneven parallel bars from junior Alex McMurtry's 9.95, first on the balance beam from Boren's 9.925, and got a tie for the top spot on the floor exercise from Baker, who shared the title with Kentucky's Korth and Sidney Dukes, all with 9.925s.

UF's team mark was the third-largest in a home opener in program history and the top total to open a SEC season.

“When the lights got dim, we started to get the chills, but going out I just tried to take a deep breath and take it all in,” Hundley said. “I tried to look around and live in the moment. I was just really appreciative and I'm very honored to be here.”

The Gators took the early lead with a 49.50 on the vault, then expanded their edge with a 49.475 on the uneven bars.

They had their lowest score of the night on the balance beam (49.30), but bounced back with a 49.325 on the floor to clinch the win despite suffering a fall which they were able not to count thanks to Baker's 9.925, Hundley's 9.90, a pair of 9.85s from Boren and junior Grace McLaughlin and a 9.80 from Slocum.

Florida travels to face North Carolina next Friday for a 7 p.m. meet.

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