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After Thursday's practice session, the No. 1 Gators chomped on the NCAA podium.

Friday April 19, 2013No. 1 Gator Gymnasts Ready to Make History, Join Elite Club

LOS ANGELES --

After Thursday's practice session, the No. 1 Gators chomped on the NCAA podium.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

They are here in the land of glitz and glamour in pursuit of the only jewel the program is missing.

Only Four…

Of the 13 sports in action since the beginning years of NCAA women’s competition (1981-82 was first season), gymnastics has the fewest number of different teams to claim a national title.

 

Sport

# of Different

Team Champs

Basketball

14

Golf

13

Cross Country

12

Softball

11

Lacrosse

10

Outdoor Track & Field

10

Field Hockey

9

Indoor Track & Field

9

Volleyball

9

Swimming & Diving

8

Tennis

8

Soccer

7

Gymnastics

4

They are here as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Gymnastics Finals for only the third time in school history.

They are here as arguably the deepest and most talented team in the field.

The Gators are one of 12 programs from around the country that will converge at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on Friday and Saturday in their quest to be the best.

Georgia is here.

Utah is here.

Two-time defending national champion Alabama is here.

Host UCLA, Florida coach Rhonda Faehn's alma mater, is here.

Those are the four schools that can claim NCAA titles in women's gymnastics. The SEC has dominated BCS football in recent years, but the Big Four have owned the sport of beams and bars.

The Gators are out to change that. They want that final piece of hardware -- an NCAA championship trophy -- to add to their collection of conference and regional trophies.

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NCAA Championships Meet Info:

No. 1 Florida (15-2, 6-1 SEC) at NCAA Championships

Date & Time: April 19-21, 2013
Site:
New Pauley Pavilion (13,800)

 

Friday, April 19

Team Semifinal

Semifinal I – 3 p.m. (ET)

Florida, Georgia, Illinois, LSU, Minnesota, Stanford

Live Stats

Live Video Stream

 

Semifinal II – 9 p.m. (ET)

Alabama, Arkansas, UCLA, Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah

Live Stats

Live Video Stream

 

Saturday, April 20 at 7 p.m. (ET)

NCAA Super Six (team final)

Live Stats

ESPN3 Live Stream

 

Sunday, April 21 at 4 p.m. (ET)

Individual Event Finals

Live Stats

ESPN3 Live Stream

 

Television: Meet airs tape-delayed on ESPNU April 30 at 8 p.m. ET

 

See Gator Gymnastics history in NCAA Championships

 

2013 NCAA Gymnastics Championships Information Site

"This team is very confident," Faehn said. "I feel like in years past the teams might have said, 'we can do this,' maybe half of them believed it, maybe half of them thought, 'this might be kind of hard.' Whereas this team, I just genuinely feel they’re at peace, they’re calm, but they’re so excited and they are confident, but not in an arrogant way. I’ve said so many times there’s no pressure when you’re prepared and this team is prepared."

All that preparation -- the Gators even practiced earlier than normal in Gainesville prior to coming to California to adjust to Friday’s noon PT start time for semifinal action - has helped Florida accomplish its major goals this season except for one.

The Gators won the Southeastern Conference Championship, finished first in the region meet and earned the top seed in the NCAA field with a lineup that is strong in all four events and deep, too.

Freshman Bridget Sloan was not here a year ago when the Gators fell by .075 points to finish national runner-up to Alabama at the NCAA Championships.

She has heard the stories. She is also one of the reasons the Gators might be able to avoid a rerun and finally make the Big Four a Fab Five.

The 2009 World Champion, Sloan was concerned early in the season how her body would hold up after years as an elite-level gymnast whose competition schedule was not nearly as busy as a college gymnast's.

Sloan lived up to her reputation and earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors.

She is aware of Florida's close-but-no-cigar history in the NCAA Finals.

"The NCAA national championship is an incredible event for any sport, and for gymnastics, especially for the University of Florida, they've come so close the last couple of years,'' Sloan said. "As I've said, I just hope I'm that little extra oomph to get that national championship. If we keep going the way we have been, I definitely think it will be in our sight.

"Our team has the depth, the chemistry; we've got it all right now."

The Gators do seem to have it all heading into meet. There is one piece of the puzzle sidelined, senior Randy Stageberg. Stageberg re-injured an old shoulder injury prior to the regional meet and is not available to lead off on the floor and beam.

She is most likely to be leading the cheers instead as Rachel Spicer, Alaina Johnson, Marissa King and others fill in as they have been.

The top-to-bottom depth of this year's team is one of Florida's biggest advantages.

"Everyone has always said we had a talented team on a paper,'' said sophomore Kytra Hunter, the defending NCAA all-around champion.”I think it’s really good we have shown people we have a talented team, not just on paper but physically too.

"It’s been said Florida has had a team that is talented on paper but can we show that? I think this is our year and we’re excited to go out there and compete.”

The Gators are competing in Semifinal I Friday starting at 3 p.m. ET. SEC rivals LSU and Georgia, Big Ten programs Minnesota and Illinois, and Stanford from the Pac-12 are with the Gators in the first semifinal.

Three teams from each semifinal advance to the Super Six on Saturday and a chance to win a national title.

Coming so close last year continues to motivate the Gators but Faehn uses it in a positive way instead of harping on the outcome.

"There’s no doubt there was a lot of disappointment not winning, but at the same time a lot of those athletes and the coaching staff realized how well we did do, winning SECs and finishing runner-up,'' Faehn said. "There were at least 10 or 15 teams that would have begged for that finish."

In her 11th year at Florida, Faehn returns to the site of her college career. Faehn competed for the Bruins from 1990-92, helping UCLA win the 1990 Pac-10 title.

She downplayed her return to Westwood. This is about her team. Her program. The fans that show up on Friday nights in the O'Connell Center. The donors and administration that helped make the team's new practice studio a reality.

This is more about them than her.

In a break from routine on Wednesday, Faehn took the Gators to the Santa Monica Pier and rode the Farris Wheel made famous in movies.

The Gators would like their trip here to Hollywood to end like a movie.

They win and go home as champions. National champions.

 

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