Top-seeded Florida wins ninth SEC championship with 198.0
Florida (15-2, 6-1 SEC) claimed a consecutive Southeastern Conference title on Saturday evening in front of 5,395 at the Verizon Arena. It is the ninth overall title for the Gators.
Florida used its highest score ever in SEC championships competition -- 198.00 -- to take the program’s ninth overall crown. Two-time defending NCAA champion Alabama was second at 197.80, followed by LSU (197.70), Georgia (197.325), Auburn (196.55), Arkansas (196.40), Missouri (195.525) and Kentucky (194.60).
As the league expanded this season to eight teams sponsoring gymnastics with the addition of Missouri, the SEC championships moved to two sessions of four teams each. The sessions were seeded based on national rank and Saturday’s evening session showed why each of the four participating teams were ranked nationally among the top 10 as the lead and placing among the teams moved from rotation to rotation.
As the top-seeded team, Florida opened the meet on vault. The event is usually a strong scoring event, as the Gators entered the meet No. 1 on the event. But steps on landings dinged Florida’s score and the team found itself in fourth place with its vault total of 49.375 after the opening rotation.
If the Gators were disappointed in their vault performance, it didn’t show in the next rotation. Florida turned in a solid 49.50 on uneven bars, thanks to three marks of 9.925 or above. Freshman Bridget Sloan, who claimed a share of the SEC all-around title, led UF on bars with her winning total of 9.95, while senior Marissa King and junior Mackenzie Caquatto each turned in 9.925s.
“What I love is we didn’t get upset about that [performance on vault] and they didn’t take it down to the next event,” UF Head Coach Rhonda Faehn said. “That’s the key to a team that’s going to succeed in the postseason.”
LSU led the meet at the midway point at 99.15 while Florida’s total of 98.875 stood second.
Balance beam was next and the Gators’ total of 49.50 shared the meet’s highest on the event. Four marks of 9.90 or better were posted by the Gators. Sloan led with a 9.925 while sophomore Rachel Spicer, Caquatto and senior Ashanée Dickerson each earned 9.9s.
That performance put the Gators in the lead by the slenderest of margins, 148.375 to 148.35, ahead of Alabama heading into the final rotation.
Faehn knew the Gators needed to deliver on their final event to keep the trophy in Gainesville.
“It was down to the wire. I can’t say that I love it like that. It was very stressful,” Faehn said. “But really, that’s what our fans love. I love a football game where it will come down to the last touchdown or field goal, so it’s kind of the same thing. It’s an incredible thing when it comes down to the last event.”
A big score on floor exercise won it for the Gators. Their floor total of 49.625 equaled the meet’s highest of the event and gave them the margin needed against Alabama, who earned the meet’s highest vault total of 49.55 on the final rotation.
All six Gators earned floor marks of 9.90 or better. Hunter and Sloan each earned 9.95s, King a 9.925 and senior Randy Stageberg, sophomore Kiersten Wang and Dickerson each posted 9.9s.
“It was outstanding. It was a different team, a different chemistry, different makeup this year,” Faehn said. “They were not going to go down without winning a conference championship this year."
A pair of unusual scoring deductions was taken after the meet concluded. Georgia questioned a floor exercise out-of-bounds deduction and asked for a video review. The judges reviewed the video and determined the deduction stood. The rule states that any video review that isn’t affirmative for the inquiring team results in a three-tenths team deduction. After reviewing the final score sheet, Alabama determined that two of its gymnasts went out of competitive order on an event, so a tenth deduction was taken off their final score.
Sloan shared the SEC all-around title with LSU’s Rheagan Courville at 39.75. Those two picked up some of the league’s highest honors on Friday, as Sloan was named the SEC Freshman of the Year and Courville was named the SEC Gymnast of the Year. The total matches Sloan’s collegiate-best set March 1 and the 39.75 stands behind Hunter’s 39.80 as the nation’s second-highest of 2013.
Sloan is the second Gator freshman in a row to win the SEC all-around, as Hunter took the 2012 title. This is the eighth time a Gator has won the SEC all-around title.
Three Gators competed as all-arounders Saturday and all finished among the meet’s final four. Hunter took third at 39.60 and Dickerson shared fourth at 39.475.
Sloan also shared two other event titles, including one with a fellow teammate. Hunter and Sloan were among a five-way tie for the floor title with season-bests of 9.95. Sloan also used that same mark to share the SEC uneven bars title with Georgia’s Brittany Rogers.
LSU’s Courville used the evening’s only 10.0 to take the vault win. Courville, Rogers and UGA’s Shayla Worley shared the beam win at 9.95.