In sports, tension is the enemy.
Go into competition plagued by fraying nerves, and the simplest task becomes a complex maneuver. Muscle memory fades. Instinct along with it. Even amongst the din of screaming fans, it’s easy to get lost in your own mind.
For freshman gymnast Alicia Boren, this tension was a common occurrence.
A product of New Jersey’s North Stars Gymnastics Academy, the diminutive Boren was an absolute firecracker throughout her pre-collegiate career.
However, even as she racked up accolades on both the amateur and national circuits, Boren’s success has been characterized by one telltale sign: her stoicism.
But in Florida's win over then-No. 5 UCLA on Friday, as Boren finished up her floor routine, her personality began to break out.
Her serious demeanor shifted when she ended her final routine with a smile.
"Really, I think that was the highlight," UF coach Jenny Rowland said. "The team recognized it and noticed it."
Despite normally being carefree and jovial, Boren is all business when she performs. The Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, native immerses herself in the heat of competition, allowing it to eat away at the joy she experiences on the practice-gym mat.
As talented as Boren is, emotion only serves to hinder her vast potential.
She notched a combined score of 29.100 over three events in her first collegiate meet at Texas Woman’s University, averaging 9.700 points per apparatus in spite of taking a fall on the vault. Stone-faced, she recovered nicely, tying for first on the beam and taking third on the floor.
Debuting at home was a completely different story.
Competing in the all-around for the first time in her fledgling Florida career, Boren turned in a solid performance, finishing no lower than fourth in each of the events she competed in.
In total, Boren’s 39.575 tied teammate Kennedy Baker for second in the meet’s all-around leaderboards — not too shabby for an athlete performing in front of an O’Connell Center crowd of more than 6,000 for the first time.
But perhaps the most compelling storyline of her night played out center stage, in the midst of her floor routine.
She may have cracked the podium, her second-place 9.900 falling just shy of Baker’s 9.950.
She may have cracked into the Southeastern Conference’s weekly awards list, netting Freshman of the Week laurels for her showing against the Bruins.
But, most importantly, she managed to crack a smile.
"In the gym, they’re all helping me to learn to smile and helping me to enjoy floor more, and just gymnastics itself," Boren said. "Because, when you smile, they say that you have fun, and then you perform better and you do better, get a better score."
And if a simple grin makes all the difference, the Florida Gators gymnastics team may have found an heir to Kytra Hunter’s throne.
"That’s good. That’s exactly (what we need). It kind of reminded me of a past dynamic duo that I used to be a part of," Bridget Sloan said, alluding to the two-time Honda Award winner and UF graduate Hunter. "So, welcome to the dynamic-duo team."