As a team primed to return to the NCAA Tournament with hopes of finishing beyond the Super Six, No. 3 Florida kicked off its regular season on a high note.
The Gators opened with a convincing 196.575-190.55 victory against Ball State in a home dual meet on Friday night in the O’Connell Center.
Friday’s meet marked the third-highest scoring total in the program’s opening history, nearly eclipsing its 196.925 score against Nebraska in 2011.
“We achieved a lot of the goals we were looking to achieve knowing that we weren’t really going to have the goal of being 100 percent prepared,” coach Rhonda Faehn said.
“It was just a matter of getting new faces out there, new routines and getting our feet wet.”
Despite the long offseason, Florida did not disappoint.
Led by senior Ashanée Dickerson and sophomore Kytra Hunter, the Gators outperformed Ball State in every aspect of the meet, posting scores of 49.325 and 49.175 in vault and bars, respectively.
“The lineups that the coaches put out were perfect for us considering we were coming back from break and had such a short amount of time to train with the team,” Hunter said. “We did excellent.”
Hunter, who was named the Honda Award winner for gymnastics in 2011, designating her as the nation’s top collegiate gymnast, matched her career-best of 9.90 to win the evening’s uneven bars title.
She posted the same score in the 2012 NCAA Championships semifinal.
Dickerson set the highest vault and bars score to earn her 14th all-around win and her 60th event title. Dickerson recovered from a fall on the beam with a strong 9.875 floor event.
“I was pleased with how they did and the energy that they had tonight,” Faehn said.
The meet couldn’t have come any sooner for the Jacksonville native, who was anxious to perform.
“We’ve been waiting for this since we got back to school, and we’ve been preparing for it,” Dickerson said. “For the last week we’ve been counting down the days.”
Faehn felt the team performed exceptionally well despite a long absence from competition, and noted that she wasn’t looking for fine tuning, fluent dismounts or sticks, but rather controlling nerves.
Faehn positioned Dickerson first in the bars rotation for the first time since her freshman year and revealed Hunter’s new tumbling pass.
More importantly, the meet was an opportunity for Faehn to evaluate talent, including freshman Bridget Sloan.
“I wasn’t looking at the scores. I was more concerned with how Bridget would do,” Faehn said.
“She’s incredibly talented and she has this competitive experience, but she’s in a completely new environment.”
Sloan displayed the same poise and uncanny maturity she developed on the Olympic stage in 2008 as the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team that medaled silver.
She recorded a 9.925 on her vault routine to earn a share of the night’s event title with Dickerson.
Junior Mackenzie Caquatto competed in her first competitive beam performance since the 2011 NCAA Championships, recording a 9.875 to earn the beam title. Caquatto did not participate in UF’s beam lineup due to ankle injuries sustained during her tryouts for the U.S. 2011 World Championships.
Florida will face No. 8 LSU on Friday in the Gators’ first Southeastern Conference event.