Gainesville, FL - University of Florida gymnastics coach Rhonda Faehn
said she got a good feeling during the team’s season-opening meet when reigning Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year Ashanée Dickerson stuck her balance beam routine and smiled, lighting up the team.
“I knew it was going to be amazing when she stuck that vault — she
was going to carry that momentum throughout the whole competition,”
Faehn said. It was when Dickerson nailed her double-back beam dismount that she proved her coach right.
In front of 5,025 fans at the Stephen O’Connell Center, preseason No.
3 Florida (1-0, 0-0 SEC) clipped Nebraska (0-1, 0-0 Big 12)
196.925-194.950. For a pair of teams who finished two spots apart at the 2010 NCAA Gymnastics Championships — the Gators finished fifth while Nebraska ended in seventh — the home team looked in mid-season form.
UF, featuring three of its four freshmen in event lineups, put newbie
Alaina Johnson in the all-around role. Fellow freshman Brittney Noble
was on vault and floor; 2010 World Championship silver medalist,
Mackenzie Caquatto, got back in the competitive flow on uneven bars.
“Especially with so many of the new faces and the new routines that
were performed, it was a wonderful starting point,” Faehn said.
Dickerson showed no signs of a sophomore slump in her first event of
the new season. She claimed the all-around title with a 39.550,
including scoring 9.925 to win vault, balance beam and floor exercise.
The win gives her eight all-around titles in her young Gator career.
Johnson tallied a 39.425 in her first college meet, the second highest
ever for a Gator all-around debut.
“All the girls had told me how exciting and fun (the meets) are, so I
just thought about it and visualized it,” Johnson said. Among the
advice she got from her teammates was to enjoy the moment, do what she normally does and “change nothing” about her routine.
In a vault lineup that featured two freshmen, the Gators posted a
49.25. Johnson was runner-up at 9.85 and UF also used a 9.825 shared
between three UF gymnasts.
Nebraska, who just missed out on the Super Six at the 2010
championships in Gainesville, started out on uneven bars with solid
scores of 9.825 and 9.85, but then hiccupped at the end of the rotation
with four straight scores of 9.75 or lower.
The Gators’ bars lineup also rounded out with two freshmen, including
Johnson — who scored an event-high 9.925. It was the highest
career-opening uneven bars mark for UF since Melanie Sinclair, who three times turned in a school record 10.0 on bars, posted a 9.975 to start her freshman season in 2007. The rotation was bolstered by Caquatto’s 9.85, which shared second with NU’s Brittnee Habbib and UF senior Alicia Goodwin’s 9.825.
The Cornhuskers posted a team score of 48.775 on vault and the Gators
owned a 98.40 - 97.65 lead at the meet’s midway point.
Dickerson’s resounding 9.925 beam routine pretty much sealed the deal
for the team win with floor exercise to go as UF pushed their lead to
more than a point as they headed into their final event. Sophomore Randy Stageberg was runner-up on beam at 9.85 and classmate Liz Green shared third at 9.80 with junior Elizabeth Mahlich and NU’s Maddie Steinhauer.
Florida kept its foot to the pedal and finished the night with a 49.40
floor total, the best score for any event in the competition and the
highest floor total ever for UF in a season opener. Maranda Smith, who
appeared in two events, was again emblematic of consistency with a 9.90 floor routine.
The senior, who was granted a sixth year by the NCAA in the summer of 2010, thought she was done after the 2010 NCAA Championships. Tonight while warming up on vault — where she scored a 9.825 — Smith felt the competitive jitters flutter back.
“I had said to Robert (Ladanyi), ‘I can’t believe I have this
feeling again, I never thought I would feel this way again,’” she
said. “Just being out there and seeing the crowd, being out there with
my teammates and coaches and seeing my parents come in, it just made my decision that much better and more exciting.”
Smith and Johnson shared second in the floor standings at 9.90.
The Gators will look to make it two in a row when they play host to
Kentucky on Friday, Jan. 14, at 7 p.m. The first 1,000 fans receive a
“Who’s Your Gator?” t-shirt. Order delivery or eat in at Pizza
Vito next week and pick up complimentary admission coupons for the UF-UK meet.