The stage was set.
The lights shined down.
And, much like they have over their three-plus year streak of dominance, the Gators came out on top.
In the country’s only top-10 gymnastics showdown of the weekend, the No. 3 Florida gymnastics team defeated No. 5 UCLA 197.675-196.925 despite falling to the Bruins in the final rotation.
When the dust settled, the Gators clinched four meet awards. Sophomore Kennedy Baker snagged both the vault and floor, sharing honors with sophomore Alex McMurtry on the former. Senior Bridget Sloan clinched her 20th all-around title, along with a victory on the uneven bars. UCLA’s Danusia Francis took home balance beam honors.
In all, UF dropped a mere six of 24 individual matchups, contributing to its first regular season home win against UCLA since 1986.
“My first meet in the O’Connell Center was definitely a memorable evening,” UF coach Jenny Rowland said. “The team told me yesterday that there’s no place like competing in the O’Dome in front of Gator Nation, and they’re absolutely right.”
The atmosphere in the O’Dome was nothing short of electric: Pockets of UCLA fans contrasted against a raucous core of Gator support, with all 6,511 in recorded attendance helping this top-10 showdown come alive.
And Florida delivered.
Halfway through the meet, the Gators posted seven scores of 9.900 or better, trumping the five earned throughout the entirety of their season-opener against Texas Woman’s University on Jan 8.
Both squads opened strongly in the first rotation, a mere .050 points separating the two at its conclusion. Pacing the Gators, Baker and McMurtry both posted 9.925s, equaling the uneven bars best of Bruin Sophina DeJesus
In support, freshman Alicia Boren notched a 9.900, the only other Gator to break the 9.900-point barrier.
Florida widened its lead in rotation two with a dominant 9.975-point uneven bars performance by Sloan.
In addition to her nation-leading scoring effort in the event, three 9.900-point performances from Boren, McMurtry and Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto brought the Gators’ total score to 98.925, besting UCLA’s 98.475.
Rotation three brought more of the same for the Gators. Led by a pair of 9.925s from the ever-reliable duo of McMurtry and Sloan, Florida posted a 49.450 on the balance beam, edging UCLA’s 49.375 floor effort and bringing the cumulative score differential to .525.
Freshmen Peyton Ernst and Boren contributed scores of 9.850 and 9.875, respectively, as no other Gators cracked 9.900.
The Gators’ all-around trio of Baker, Boren and Sloan helped the team finish strong. Baker recorded a meet-high score of 9.950 on the floor, complementing dual 9.900s from her teammates en route to a close-out 49.300 score.
Boren’s performance, though, stood out in particular. A week removed from a fall on the vault against Texas Woman’s University, the freshman gymnast improved on every apparatus but one, turning in a solid showing in her first collegiate attempt at the all-around.
Florida next heads to Auburn to face the T-No. 7 Tigers in UF’s first Southeastern Conference matchup of the season.
“The experience, it was amazing,” Boren said. “It was so fun. I didn’t even know I was competing all-around until yesterday. I was so excited.”
Follow Alejandro López on Twitter @ajlb95