Jan. 21, 2010

 

By Amy Farnum
NCAA.com

Ashanée Dickerson's little girl dreams became a young woman's reality last week when she took the gym floor at the University of Florida's O'Connell Center in the Gators' home opening win against Arkansas.

Like many gymnasts, Dickerson began training in the sport at an early age - starting as a six-year-old at Gymnastics Unlimited in Jacksonville, Fla. She stayed with it, and at eight years old, Dickerson eventually made her way 72 miles down the road to Gainesville to watch some of the nation's top gymnasts compete.

Dickerson continued to follow the Gator gymnasts over the years, collecting autographs and taking pictures with her role models after meets. She even still has a "Kiss me, I'm a Gator" T-shirt that was the promotional give-away when Florida hosted Utah in a 2006 St. Patrick's Day dual meet.

"I admired all the girls that were on the floor competing," said Dickerson. "I really liked the introduction when the lights go out and the gymnasts jumped around everywhere."

Two of Dickerson's favorite gymnasts were all-arounders Erinn Dooley and Orley Szmuch, who combined for 11 All-America honors during their careers at Florida. While Dickerson was watching her idols compete, Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn began noticing the young gymnast at the Gators' summer camps.

"Even though she was younger, we noticed a tremendous amount of talent and potential," said Faehn. "Then, one day, I was at her gym looking at an older gymnast when she was in the ninth or 10th grade, and I remember watching her vault. I thought the sheer power of this athlete is phenomenal.

"We couldn't talk with Ashanée until she was a junior, but we really followed her closely as years progressed. She continued to get better and better."

Faehn also notes Dickerson's tremendous work ethic, and says the freshman will do anything asked of her.

"In the gym, it makes her outstanding -- the more you train, the more you consistent you become," said Faehn. "She carries that over into the competitions where not only is she consistent, but it comes out. Her success is a reflection of the way she trains and her worth ethic. It's not a surprise -- it's a breath of fresh air."

After starting her collegiate career with an all-around victory at Oklahoma on Jan. 8, Dickerson made her home debut against Arkansas last Friday. With the lights down at the O'Connell Center, she was finally introduced as a Gator gymnast in front of a home crowd filled with several members of her Jacksonville gym and at least 10 members of her family watching the coming-of-age moment.

Dickerson did not disappoint, winning her second all-around title (39.475), as well as her second straight vault title (9.925), and claimed a share of first place on the floor (9.90) in the Gators' Southeastern Conference victory versus the Lady 'Backs. "In the past, I would look up in the stands and see her in her Gator shirt -- it's wonderful to see her now on the other side performing and doing an amazing job, and also getting the respect and admiration from younger athletes like she once was," said Faehn.

Afterwards, Dickerson signed her own autograph and took pictures with young gymnasts.

"I always wanted to be a role model to younger kids when I got older like they had been for me," said Dickerson.

Dickerson, who was selected SEC Freshman of the Week for her performance against Arkansas, ranks second in the nation with a season average all-around of 39.412.

"It is early, but we feel she has a tremendous amount of potential," said Faehn. "Everything she does on the competition floor is done with tremendous amplitude and power. Her release moves on bars are sky-high, her tumbling, her dismounts -- everything is done top-notch. She'll gain more confidence as the season goes on and I definitely see that she can challenge for the SEC and national all-around titles. She just has to continue to grow and take one competition at a time."

Dickerson and the fourth-ranked Gators are back in action on Jan. 22 as they travel to Lexington, Ky., for a SEC dual meet against No. 12 Kentucky.