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Ashanée Dickerson's 9.975 floor routine brought the O'Connell Center crowd to its feet Friday.

Friday February 8, 2013Gators Make Bold Statement in Record-Setting Win

Gainesville, Fla.

Ashanée Dickerson's 9.975 floor routine brought the O'Connell Center crowd to its feet Friday.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

The scene Friday night at the O'Connell Center could not have been more different than the one 10 months ago at the NCAA Gymnastics Championships.

Florida Event Winners Friday

Uneven Bars:

Mackenzie Caquatto

9.950

 

Bridget Sloan

9.950

Balance Beam

Mackenzie Caquatto

9.925

Floor Exercise

Ashanée Dickerson

9.975

All-Around

Bridget Sloan

39.675

On a tension-filled afternoon at the Gwinnett Center about 30 miles from downtown Atlanta, the national championship came down to the final rotation.

The Gators were on floor, the Crimson Tide on beam. Florida finished its floor routine and then could only watch as Alabama's Ashley Priess performed on the beam, the final performance of the meet.

Priess nailed it and Alabama won its second consecutive national title, edging the Gators by .075 points. The Gators were so close to their first national title but had to return home holding the national runner-up trophy instead of the big one.

Now fast forward to a lively O'Dome on Friday night where the ninth-largest crowd in school history (8,074) showed up to watch the first meeting between the Gators and Crimson Tide since last April.

Once again, the final rotation had the Gators on floor and Alabama on beam.

But whatever tension existed had long left the building. An orange-and-blue party was in full swing, punctuated by a dynamic floor routine by senior Ashanée Dickerson.

Dickerson's career-best 9.975 floor score highlighted the No. 1-ranked Gators' victory over their SEC rivals.

"That was the best routine of her four years here, it really was,'' Gators coach Rhonda Faehn said. "That was amazing."

The Gators finished with a team score of 198.100, the second-best mark in the program's history behind only the 198.225 in a narrow loss to UCLA (198.250) in the regular-season finale in March 2004.

The Gators finished their dazzling performance Friday with a score of 49.650 on the floor, matching the best score in school history in that event.

There's still a lot of season left, but the Gators made a bold statement in front of the home fans Friday night: they are determined as ever to win the program's first national title and join Alabama, UCLA, Utah and Georgia as the only programs to do so.

"Come NCAAs, SECs, Regionals, we're going to put our best team out there, and as of right now, I have no worries about what our team is going to look like,'' said freshman Bridget Sloan, who won the all-around title Friday night with a collegiate-best 39.675.

Sloan's score matched the NCAA's second-best all-around total this season behind only teammate Kytra Hunter's 39.70 earlier this season versus Auburn.

"Each meet we get a little better and better as a team,'' Sloan said. “We are on just on fire right now and I hope we can stay there."

What made Florida's performance even more impressive is that Hunter, the NCAA defending all-around champion, had an off night. Hunter fell off the bars and on the beam before regrouping and scoring a 9.95 on her floor routine.

Faehn said Hunter was unable to practice for three days leading up to the meet while battling stomach flu.

What does that say about how loaded this Gators team is?

"I think it means we just have an incredible team,'' said Sloan, a freshman and 2009 World All-Around Champion. “There is so much talent on this team right now. It's nice to know that even if you rest a week, there is someone who can take your place who will nail that routine.

"That's a great feeling."

Still beaming 20 minutes after the meet ended, Faehn shared Sloan's optimism following Florida's fourth consecutive victory after a road loss at LSU in the season's second meet.

"What I'm loving about this team is that everyone is just completely involved and stepping up,'' Faehn said. "No one is stepping back and saying, 'well, she is going to take care of it.' They all want to be a part of it. That is making this team better."

Simply put, the Gators were on top of their game. Other notable marks from Friday:

--Florida’s 49.475 on vault equaled the 11th-best performance in school history.

--The Gators' 49.575 on bars equaled the eighth-highest score in school history.

--The 198.100 team score is the nation's top mark this season.

--Florida now has three of the nation’s top four team totals of 2013 (through Feb. 8 competition).

Oh, and there was that electric crowd that gave the Gators a standing ovation at the end.

"They were loud, they were on their feet, they were cheering,'' Faehn said. "I feel it was the best atmosphere we've ever had, at least in the 11 years I've been here. The girls deserve that. That's what they live for, is performing for the crowd."

The Gators gave them plenty to cheer about this time, defeating an Alabama team that has six national championship trophies back in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama coach Sarah Patterson said before the meet that she has voted the Gators No. 1 all season. Don't expect that to change any time soon if Florida strings together more performances like Friday's.

The soft-spoken Dickerson was at the Gwinnett Center last spring when the Gators walked off the floor disappointed and with tears in their eyes.

Dickerson was all smiles on Friday when she finished her floor routine, mobbed by her teammates in what amounted to a victory celebration.

The quest now is to keep smiling.

"We were just ready to get out there and prove ourselves,'' Dickerson said. "We know that we can beat them. We are going to go up from here, I can feel it."

Faehn would be fine with that.

"They weren't intimidated,'' she said. "They didn't even focus on anything but what our job was. It was incredible. It was exactly what we were looking for from our athletes and how to respond in a high-pressure situation. They fought for every little thing. That was impressive. Everyone competed with fire and it really showed."

No. 1 Florida versus No. 5 Alabama

Final Team Totals

Feb. 8, 2013 ● Stephen C. O’Connell Center (8,074)

Team

Vault

Bars

Beam

Floor

Total

Florida

49.475

49.575

49.400

49.650

198.100

Alabama

49.325

49.175

49.025

49.325

196.850

 

 

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