Top-ranked Florida tops No. 5 Alabama behind Dickerson's career-best
The scene Friday at the O'Connell Center could not have been more different than the one 10 months ago at last year's NCAA Championships.
On a tension-filled afternoon at the Gwinnett Center about 30 miles from downtown Atlanta, the national championship came down to the final rotation.
The Gators were on floor, the Crimson Tide on beam. Florida finished its floor routine and then could only watch as Alabama's Ashley Priess performed on the beam, the final performance of the meet. Priess nailed it and Alabama won its second national title in a row, edging the Gators by .075 points.
Now fast forward to a lively O'Dome on Friday where the ninth-largest crowd in school history (8,074) showed up to watch the first meeting between the Gators and Crimson Tide since last April.
Once again, the final rotation had the Gators on floor and Alabama on beam.
But whatever tension existed had long left the building. An orange-and-blue party was in full swing, punctuated by a dynamic floor routine by senior Ashanee Dickerson. Dickerson's career-best 9.975 floor score highlighted the No. 1 Gators' victory against their fifth-ranked SEC rivals.
"That was the best routine of her four years here, it really was,'' Gators coach Rhonda Faehn said. "That was amazing."
The Gators finished with a team score of 198.100, the second-best mark in the program's history behind only a 198.225 in a narrow loss to UCLA (198.250) in the regular-season finale in March 2004.
"They weren't intimidated,'' Faehn said. "They didn't even focus on anything but what our job was. It was incredible. It was exactly what we were looking for from our athletes and how to respond in a high-pressure situation. They fought for every little thing. That was impressive. Everyone competed with fire and it really showed."
The Gators finished their performance Friday with a score of 49.650 on the floor, matching the best score in school history in that event.
"Come NCAAs, SECs, Regionals, we're going to put our best team out there, and as of right now, I have no worries about what our team is going to look like,'' said freshman Bridget Sloan, who won the all-around title Friday with a collegiate-best 39.675.
Sloan's score matched the NCAA's second-best all-around total this season behind only teammate Kytra Hunter's 39.70 earlier this season versus Auburn.
"Each meet we get a little better and better as a team,'' Sloan said. “We are just on fire right now and I hope we can stay there."
What made Florida's performance even more impressive is that Hunter, the NCAA defending all-around champion, had an off night. Hunter fell off the bars and on the beam before regrouping and scoring a 9.95 on her floor routine.
Faehn said Hunter was unable to practice for three days leading up to the meet while battling stomach flu.
"I think it means we just have an incredible team,'' Sloan said. “There is so much talent on this team right now. It's nice to know that even if you rest a week, there is someone who can take your place who will nail that routine."