GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Marissa King stood still and basked in the moment.
As the crowd of more than 6,000 at the O’Connell Center roared on Friday night, King glanced over at the judge following a picture-perfect dismount from the balance beam.
The judge smiled and gave her a quick wink.
“I held it just to make sure everyone saw it,’’ King said. “It’s not always just about getting it done. It’s about having the fun and the enjoyment from it. Judges love that, too.’’
The showgirl in King was in fine form in the top-ranked Gators’ win over No. 3 Georgia.
King won the beam for the fifth time this season with a score of 9.950, matching her collegiate best. She also won on bars, posting a score of 9.925 in a memorable performance for the junior from Cambridge, England.
Only two weeks ago King’s ankles hurt so badly that Florida coach Rhonda Faehn didn’t know if she was going to be able to even finish her floor routine against LSU.
To help King heal, Faehn held her out of vault and floor exercise competitions a week ago at Auburn.
As the Gators warmed up for Friday night’s showdown against the Bulldogs, Faehn liked what she saw. King looked ready for a strong comeback following the lighter load at Auburn.
“That really helped her mentally and it helped her physically refresh so she could come out and just go really hard,’’ Faehn said. “You could just see it. I could see it in her eyes, see in her demeanor, see in her attitude that she was going to do great.”
What wasn’t as easy to see prior to the season was King’s dominant performance on the beam in 2012. She scored consistently well in the routine as a freshman before a nagging foot injury limited her effectiveness last season.
King suffered a loss in confidence. Determined to improve and regain her solid footing on the beam, King worked extra hard in practice.
To help her mental approach, King even asked her teammates and coaches to stop what they were doing at times in practice and watch her perform “so I could be sound in a pressure situation.”
There was no way she could have the kind of junior season she envisioned without regaining some of the lost confidence on the beam, generally regarded as the sport’s most difficult routine.
“I was so disappointed in [my beam] last year,” said King, the reigning NCAA vault champion. “I hated that Rhonda didn’t trust me. Even when she gave me the opportunity to get up in the lineup, I would mess up. She wanted me to do well but I was making mistakes.”
Once the season was over and King’s foot finally healed, she began to rebuild her routine on the beam. Little by little her confidence returned.
It was on full display Friday night as King held her pose for several seconds following that perfect dismount.
“For her to actually make a statement like she did when she stuck her landing on beam, I mean little stuff like that gets the crowd involved, not just for her but for us too,’’ said Gators freshman Kytra Hunter.
The moment brought a huge smile to Faehn’s face as she raced over to give King a hug.
“That’s just pure confidence – ‘I stuck it; you are not going to deduct anything here’ -- I thought it was great because it helps the girls and gets them fired up,’’ Faehn said. “She really helps with the energy.”
It was an excellent night for nearly every Florida gymnast as the Gators knocked off one of their top rivals. Hunter won the vault and floor exercise routines, and dynamic Ashanee Dickerson was named the evening’s most entertaining performer.
In the press room following the win, Dickerson and teammate Amy Ferguson bubbled with energy and excitement after the biggest win of the season so far.
King walked in and joined the party.
It was the Gators’ night, but in some ways, it was King’s show.
“I was in it,” she said.
Faehn attributed much of King’s improvement on the beam to simply a more disciplined focus at practice. A mistake is no longer tolerated by King.
“She was amazing,’’ Dickerson said. “I’m so happy for her. She worked so hard in the gym on every little thing to try and perfect it. It’s the most confident I’ve seen her in a while.”
King is once again a queen on the beam.