Bridget Sloan won her sixth bars title.
Florida Athletics

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 1 Florida used the nation’s second-highest score of 2013, a 198.40, to win Saturday’s NCAA Regional competition held in front of a Stephen C. O’Connell Center crowd of 7,137. The win advanced Florida to the NCAA Championships, which is set for April 19-21 in the Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.

This will be 31st national championships appearance for the Gators, missing only the 2000 meet in the 32-year history of the NCAA gymnastics championships. Florida took second to Alabama in the 2012 event held in Duluth, Ga.

The Gators’ 198.40 is second to the team’s 198.425 set March 1 and ranks as the nation’s 10th-highest posted. The win Saturday brought the program’s total number of regional wins to 13. Minnesota was second at 197.10 to claim the other NCAA championship berth, which will be the Gophers’ first national championship appearance since 2002. Auburn was third at 196.70, followed by Maryland (195.575), Pittsburgh (194.775) and Bridgeport (194.225).

There was plenty that could have distracted the Gators for this competition. Senior Randy Stageberg, who has been a part of every Gator balance beam and floor exercise lineup this season, dislocated her right shoulder in March 30 training. That forced Florida’s Rhonda Faehn to shift the lineups, adding senior Marissa King on beam and freshman Bridgette Caquatto on floor exercise. The Gators had a bit of time to make adjustment for that, but Friday night’s emergency root canal on junior Mackenzie Caquatto caused further changes.

“Saturday was absolutely incredible; I was so proud of how the entire team stepped up and performed. And I’m not talking about performance factor right now, because we had a very challenging week; starting out with losing Randy Stageberg to a dislocated shoulder, and then Macko [Mackenzie Caquatto] having an emergency root canal last night and not knowing if she was going to be able to go, was making things a little bit sketchy heading into the night,” Faehn said.

“But I was not concerned because I knew anyone that was going to step up would do an amazing job. This team, they trust each other and they all came out and were lights out on all events. It wasn’t just the gymnastics but also the heart and the passion and fighting through all the circumstances and not letting any of it affect them and their performances,” she said. “They knew what they were capable of doing and they went out and took care of business.”

No concerns were shown in the Gators’ performance Saturday. Mackenzie Caquatto hit each of her three events, posting 9.925 on bars, a 9.9 on beam and a 9.875 on vault. King equaled her collegiate beam best of 9.95 to anchor the lineup and take the event title. Bridgette Caquatto also posted a collegiate-best 9.925 on floor exercise. In addition, junior Alaina Johnson, sidelined since the Jan. 18 meet with a stress reaction and stress fracture of her lower back, returned to earn a 9.925 on vault and a 9.875 on bars.

Sophomore Kytra Hunter, defending NCAA all-around champion, claimed that event title at 39.775, just off her national-leading 39.80 set March 1. The other two Gators in the all-around Saturday finished right behind Hunter, with freshman Bridget Sloan taking second at 39.675 and King matching her collegiate-best of 39.65 for third.

A Gator claimed at least a share of each apparatus title. Senior Ashanée Dickerson and Hunter shared the vault win at 9.95 with Auburn’s Bri Guy and Minnesota’s Lindsay Mable and Jenny Covers. Sloan matched her collegiate best of 9.975 to take her sixth bars title of the season. King and Hunter shared the floor win with matching marks of 9.95.