Backed by one of the strongest fan bases in collegiate gymnastics, the Florida gymnastics team recognizes the importance of hometown support and have routinely benefitted from its effects.
Since 2004, UF gymnastics has averaged crowds ranking eighth or higher nationally in terms of size.
Florida’s home opener, a win over then-No. 5 UCLA, brought 6,511 to the O’Connell Center, almost 700 more fans than the team’s 5,850 average attendance mark from last season.
However, if the Gators want to build momentum for another deep postseason run, they’ll need every fan they can get at Friday evening’s Southeastern Conference matchup against visiting Alabama.
The stiffest test UF will have faced to date, the No. 5 Crimson Tide, have historically mopped the mat with the Gators.
Leading the all-time series 70-37-2, Alabama has held Florida to its lowest winning percentage against any scheduled opponent with over 10 meets contested.
Last season, the Crimson Tide triumphed over the Gators in Tuscaloosa, winning a 197.400-196.800 contest at the Coleman Coliseum.
This season’s rendition, though, takes place at the O’Connell Center, and Florida’s gymnasts are ready.
"I’m really excited to be back home," sophomore Kennedy Baker said. "‘Bama’s a really good SEC team, and I think it’s going to be a really good SEC meet between (these) teams."
And it’s shaping up to be a great one.
One of six teams to ever win the NCAA Gymnastics Championship, Alabama is coming off a historic 2015 campaign.
In addition to beating UF, the Crimson Tide clinched a record-setting 21st berth in the Super Six, finishing fourth overall.
Against such quality competition, home court advantage could prove to be a difference maker.
"Alabama is always one of the best meets for us. It’s a huge rivalry school, so it’s always something to look forward to," three-time defending SEC Gymnast of the Week Bridget Sloan said.
"With it being home, it’s another opportunity for the freshmen to get out in front of a home crowd. It’s another opportunity for all of us to get out in front of a home crowd."
Yet, even with the stage set for yet another top-five battle, both coaches and athletes understand the gravity of the looming challenge.
"Alabama coming in on Friday is going to be great," head coach Jenny Rowland said. "I know they always are prepared. They’re going to come in, they’re going to bring their a-team.
"They’re going to be ready for battle, as will the Gators."