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Florida celebrates its first NCAA Gymnastics Championship Saturday.

Sunday April 21, 2013We've Got This: Gator Gymnasts Prove it in Stirring Fashion

Florida celebrates its first NCAA Gymnastics Championship Saturday.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

LOS ANGELES -- The message was delivered over and over, as if on a constant loop with no off-button.

They shared it with each other in the hallway of the team hotel, on bus rides to Pauley Pavilion, during team meetings. They used the three words while warming up here at the NCAA Gymnastics Championships.

We've got this.

And then Saturday's Super Six started with the Gators on beam. They suddenly seemed to have lost that message and their balance.

"When I fell I was like, 'holy cow, what happened?' sophomore Kytra Hunter said. "I knew I had to get myself back together."

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The NCAA Super Six competition airs on ESPNU April 30 at 8 p.m. ET

Hunter's tumble followed a fall on beam by senior Ashanée Dickerson. Four routines into the night's first rotation, and the Gators knew they would have to count a score that was going to be unkind.

Mackenzie Caquatto and Marissa King closed the Gators' beam rotation with solid scores, but the disappointment -- or more like shock -- hovered over the Gators as Coach Rhonda Faehn gathered the team in a huddle.

This was not what they had in mind.

From Last to First

In the land of Hollywood endings, the Gators

created their own perfect script with their

performance Saturday in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.

 

Here’s how the Gators moved from last to first

over the course of the meet’s rotations.

UF Competing

Rotation

 

Event

+/- behind

Leader

 

Place

I

Beam

-0.50

Last

III

Floor

-0.15

2nd

IV

Vault

-0.025

2nd

VI

Bars

+0.20

1st

The Gators had a bye after beam and before they performed on floor, so they departed the competition area for the locker room to regroup.

We've got this.

Those three words seemed far away but they began to slowly resurface in between breaths. The Gators understood the hole they had to climb from, but this team hasn't lacked for confidence all season and now was not the time to start the here-we-go-again game.

"I still believed that even with [the falls], we could still win,'' Faehn said. "That was the biggest thing. I saw in their eyes, they genuinely believed it. They just really believed it."

Freshman Bridget Sloan, who has shown no fear during her season at UF, started to sing and dance in the locker room. Birthday girl Marissa King and others joined in.

"We did what we usually do,'' Sloan said. "We had fun."

The message started to resonate once more.

We've got this.

To earn that elusive first NCAA national title in program history, the Gators would need to pull off a floor routine that would make Beyoncé proud. Did they ever.

Florida responded with a score of 49.725 on floor, the best in Super Six history and a school record. Hunter scored a 9.975, Sloan, King and Bridgette Caquatto all posted 9.950s and Dickerson added a 9.90.

The Gators were back in it.

They followed the dazzling floor rotation with a 49.50 showing on vault, setting up a nail-biting finish with Alabama owning a .025-point lead heading into the sixth and final rotation.

At last year's NCAA Championships, the Gators led Alabama by the same margin entering the final rotation. The Crimson Tide edged the Gators in the end, spoiling UF's bid to join Alabama, Utah, UCLA and Georgia as the only schools to claim NCAA Gymnastics titles.

With host UCLA's national title banners hanging in the rafters at iconic Pauley Pavilion, down below the Gators ended the meet on bars while Alabama was on beam.

Shortly after junior Alaina Johnson nailed a 9.950 score on Florida's final performance on bars -- securing a team score of 49.475 in the event -- the math was in the books.

There was no way the Gators could lose.

"When the competition was nearing an end, I pulled the team into a huddle and said just stay calm,'' Faehn said. "I don't know what's going on. Nobody knows what's going on with the scores. We have to wait until it's done. That was kind of a hard time for all of us."

Soon, King started to shout, "we did it, we finally did it."

They had it, that national championship that had eluded them in past trips to the Super Six.

Florida edged second-place Oklahoma, which moved past Alabama in the final rotation, by a score of 197.575 to 197.375. Alabama scored 197.350, followed by UCLA (197.100), LSU (197.050) and Georgia (196.675).

We've got this.

As confetti fell from above, the Gators were introduced as the 2013 NCAA Gymnastics National Champion.

They did it the hard way.

"I'm thrilled for Rhonda,'' said UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said. "She has come close so many times. Tonight's the exclamation point. You saw how it started and you saw how it ended.

"That shows some unbelievable toughness."

Sloan was a key catalyst as usual, posting scores of 9.950 in three events (vault, beam and floor) and a 9.900 on bars. The NCAA all-around champion also led the Super Six competition, matching her collegiate-best of 39.75.

"We believed in ourselves,'' she said. "That's what it takes. It just feels great to be part of an incredible team."

In the final team meet of her career, King couldn't think of a better way to celebrate her birthday.

"I will always remember my 22nd,'' she said. "We just didn't walk in and they handed us the trophy. We worked so hard for this."

More than half an hour after the final presentation, the Gators stood in front of their fans singing "It's Great to be a Florida Gator."

The scene offered a perfect Hollywood ending for these Gators. Much different than a year ago near Atlanta when they watched Alabama celebrate a second consecutive national title.

"I think all of our inner sense came from the disappointment of last year,'' Hunter said. "That day when we stepped back on campus in the fall, we were all ready to go. We said this is our time."

It was their time. They can now say it all they want.

We've got this.

 

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