By Jim Harvin
When Florida and Alabama meet today at 6:45 p.m. in the Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center, expect some fierce competition and some great college gymnastics.
“Over the past couple of years, it’s been really intense,” UF senior and 15-time All-American Alex McMurtry said of the rivalry.
“Alabama’s always been a great team, so we know it’s hard to go to ‘Bama with thousands of their fans. I think it’s been easier on home turf, and we have that momentum. I’m really excited. I think we’re going to have a great meet against a great SEC team.”
The No. 5 Gators (4-1, 2-1) and No. 9 Crimson Tide (3-2, 2-1) have both advanced to the NCAA Super Six in each of the last six years.
In addition, the Tide captured back-to-back NCAA titles in 2011-12, with the Gators following with three in a row from 2013-15.
“I’m very excited to see how we’ve been building,” said UF coach Jenny Rowland, now in her third season with the Gators. “Has it gone as planned? Absolutely not. Things have changed here and there, and that’s OK. However, this team has handled those changes very well.
“I feel that our last away meet (Auburn) was our best executed meet of the season. It seems we’ve just gotten better and better as the year has gone on.”
Florida is feeling confident.
“We still have the rest of the regular season and postseason, and I think that we’re in a really, really good place,” senior and 11-time All-American Kennedy Baker said. “We just came off a great road score. I think that right now we’re just into details; it’s just fine-tuning everything and making sure we get sticks in landings and everything else should fall in place.”
This will be UF’s third home meet of the season, with the Gators looking for their third straight sellout.
“I have a lot of faith in Gator Nation,” Rowland said. “Two home meets down and a big meet Friday against Alabama. I know Gator Nation really loves to support those Gators, especially when ‘Bama is in town.
“We’re looking forward to seeing everybody there, students included. I’m very excited to see that student section filled up with all the shakers, and their energy really helps these athletes get through an exciting meet.”
Florida is ready.
Who: No. 9 Alabama vs. No. 5 Florida
Where: Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center
TV: SEC Network
Tickets: O’Connell Center ticket windows open at 5 p.m., with the gates opening at 5:30 p.m. Gates 1, 2 and 3 will be open for each gymnastics meet.
“We are definitely building every meet, from the start of the season until now,” senior and two-time All-American Rachel Slocum said. “We’ve definitely been focusing on those little details and we’re just improving every meet.
“We’re super excited to be home this weekend. I can’t wait to have – cross fingers – another sellout crowd and definitely feed off that energy.”
Rowland is understandably pleased.
“It’s been great,” she said. “January was a tough month for the Gators, and you have to be on point every Friday. February really is no different. We will be able to rest here and there some of the biggest players; that’s the plan. They need to have that rest as well, but everybody that we’ve put in that didn’t know they were competing that Friday has stepped up and accepted the challenge.
“That’s what this team has been doing in the gym, and you know what? Any Friday night, it’s no different. Everybody is ready and everybody is willing to do whatever it takes for the team.”