Amy Farnum, NCAA.com
Collegiate gymnasts are always striving to improve their scores with every meet, and if that’s the case when Florida and Alabama tangle this weekend, fans should get ready to be impressed.
Top-ranked Florida is coming off a season-high 197.50 against NC State and Penn State, which is the highest in the nation and the only score to hit a 197 or better. The Gators have posted a 196 or better in three of their four meets.
“It just shows how much potential this team has,” said senior Maranda Smith. “We didn’t even have our best competition, didn’t have our full lineup in and we still got that really high score. It drives us and fuels us for the rest of the season to continue working hard.”
Freshman Alaina Johnson played a key role in the Gators’ high-scoring affair, winning her first collegiate all-around title with the nation’s highest score of 39.60 last Friday. Johnson also picked up titles on the vault (9.95), uneven bars (9.95) and floor exercise (9.925), garnering Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week for her efforts. She currently ranks fifth nationally in the all-around (39.408) behind teammate Ashanée Dickerson (39.417).
“I’ve definitely seen a level of competitive maturity for this early in the season,” said Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn. “This is something we’ve always struggled with in the past where we’ve had a high degree of difficulty and wowed people in that sense, but when it came down to it, we needed some polish and to do those skills extremely well. I feel this year we have that – we have the intangibles.”
The No. 6 Crimson Tide is looking for continued improvement fresh off their season-high score of 196.825, which won the four-team Metroplex Challenge last weekend. Alabama’s score was the third-high total in the nation of 2011, and was propelled by senior Kayla Hoffman’s all-around-winning mark of 39.525.
The rivalry between the two league foes has been incredibly close over the last few years with Florida owning a 7-6-1 series advantage since 2007.
“It will give us a really strong test. It’s a great opportunity for our athletes to get out there and focus on what we need to do – presentation and polish – and not focus on who is coming in the door,” said Faehn.
Alabama and Florida will meet on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. ET in Gainesville. A tape-delayed broadcast of the meet will air on ESPNU on Feb. 10 at 9 p.m. ET.
Need to Know
• Michigan senior Kylee Botterman claimed her third Big Ten Gymnast of the Week award in four weeks as she captured titles in the balance beam, floor exercise, uneven bars and all-around while boosting the Wolverines to a victory at the Michigan Quad on Jan. 29. The native of New Lenox, Ill., has won 13 individual titles in four meets, including four all-around victories this season. She has finished outside the top three in an event just once this season. Botterman ranks third in the nation with a 39.456 average in the all-around, and is among the nation’s top 10 on the vault, bars and beam.
• West Virginia freshman Hope Sloanhoffer continued the spectacular start to her collegiate career, earning her sixth straight East Atlantic Gymnastics League weekly honor as the Specialist of the Week following a wins on the vault (9.8) and beam (9.8) as the Mountaineers downed Pittsburgh and Rutgers on Jan. 29. The native of Cornwall, N.Y., has scored a 9.8 or better on 13 of her 15 routines this season. She is the top vaulter in the EAGL.
• Stanford head coach Kristen Smyth’s last-minute lineup change in the final rotation against Utah on Jan. 29 turned out to be the right move as senior co-captain Danielle Ikoma registered a career-best 9.875 on the balance beam to give the Cardinal a narrow 196.825-196.500 victory. Ikoma was originally not in the lineup as Smyth was trying to give her a rest, but the third gymnast in Stanford’s beam lineup fell, and the coach decided to let her senior compete. Stanford ended up with a 49.325 on the beam – the highest in any event this season, despite suffering the team’s first fall of the season during the rotation.
• Defending NCAA champion UCLA hit all 24 routines for the first time this season en route to the Bruins’ first victory of the year as they narrowly defeated Oregon State by .05 in Pac-10 action last weekend.
• Nebraska senior Erin Davis picked up her second consecutive Big 12 Event Specialist of the Week honor after capturing the vault title for the second week in a row, scoring a 9.925 at the Metroplex Challenge. She ranks second in the nation with a vault average of 9.925.
• Minnesota’s season-high score of 195.575 in a defeat of Air Force moved the Golden Gophers up the national rankings to No. 13 this week. The Gophers team score was their highest since the 2009 season.