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Alex McMurtry overcoming injury for Florida gymnastics

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Alex McMurtry’s pain began as a sophomore in high school.

A simple stress fracture in her spine wasn’t supposed to cause this much discomfort.

But one fracture became three, and her training regimen was soon dictated by pain out of her control.

However, four years later, the Gators gymnastics sophomore’s lack of a floor routine was the only competitive consequence.

A year-and-a-half of eligibility would pass, but her inaugural performance on Feb. 26 proved that her back no longer stood between her and the mat.

Now, heading into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Championships, McMurtry will not only compete for the Gators, but also for herself, as she makes her postseason all-around debut.

And she’s not afraid.

"Going into SECs this year, I’m super excited," McMurtry said. "I don’t think the nerves are gonna get to me."

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From the beginning, McMurtry’s skill was evident.

A talented athlete, the Midlothian, Virginia, native made her rounds on the junior circuit, racking up titles on the state and national levels.

The 2013 Nastia Liukin Supergirl Cup Senior vault, balance beam, floor and all-around champion made a name for herself as a complete competitor.

But her back injury persisted, forcing the four-time J.O. Olympic National Team member out of the all-around classification in 2014 in the interest of preserving her back.

In spite of this, UF — then under the direction of Rhonda Faehn — had offered her a spot in its recruiting class the year prior.

Despite participating in roughly a quarter of the team’s practices, McMurtry quickly established herself as an elite competitor in the SEC, posting a perfect 10 on vault in only her second collegiate meet.

"Honestly, for me, it’s all about training smart," McMurtry said. "I can’t put in the numbers (in practice)."

She didn’t need them.

A successful first year ended with four All-America selections and a national title, foreshadowing things to come.

"There are some athletes who have to get that way by doing massive amounts of numbers," Faehn said in late January, 2015, "and then there’s other athletes that cannot do as many numbers and they know how to get where they need to be, and that’s Alex."

But for all her freshman success, she had one thing left to accomplish.

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On Feb. 26, 2016, McMurtry cracked the rotation for the first time.

Almost two years after she competed on floor at the 2014 Junior Olympic National Championships, she took the mat once more in a home meet against LSU.

If there were any worries as to whether she would falter under the combined gaze of 7,129 sets of eyes, she gracefully set them at ease.

Her 9.900 equaled the highest debut floor score ever recorded by a Gators gymnast, placing her in the company of former All-Americans Alaina Johnson and Kytra Hunter.

McMurtry followed that performance up with yet another 9.900 in an away meet against Kentucky, missing out on the all-around title by 0.025 points to teammate Bridget Sloan and solidifying her reputation as an all-around force.

"We’re very happy that Alex had a great meet, as is she," Rowland said. "We were just looking, we actually were not prepared to compete her again until SEC’s. However, we thought (that) just for her confidence level that might be necessary, and she was up for the challenge."

And that next challenge is shaping up as her stiffest to date.

"I’m thrilled," McMurtry said. "I’ve done everything I can, and having two all-rounds already under my belt for the season, I think I’m ready. … I can’t wait to compete all-around."

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Things are boding well for both McMurtry and the Gators’ championship hopes.

As the No. 1-seed heading into Saturday’s SEC Championships, the team is in a familiar position. They’ve been the SEC’s top seed for six of the last seven years.

Over the last two seasons, few Florida gymnasts have played a larger role in the team’s success than McMurtry.

Her return to the floor brings more key depth to the rotation, adding yet another component to Florida’s third-ranked floor unit.

"I’m super excited for Alex to compete," sophomore Kennedy Baker said. "She’s one of my best friends, and just watching her be able to do all-around is so inspiring, so amazing. Just to be able to do floor with her, I’m really looking forward to it."

However, while securing her first conference championship is a priority, McMurtry is focused on improvement.

The sophomore has more to give, and Saturday is another opportunity to show it.

"You just want to perform," McMurtry said, "because that’s what we’ve been doing our whole lives."

Contact Alex Lopez at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ajlb95