The heavyweight bout of the week has arrived.
In one corner, the No. 3 Florida Gators gymnastics team looks to build off of a resounding season-opening win, aiming to build momentum for what looks to be a grueling slate of upcoming home meets.
Opposite them, the No. 5 UCLA Bruins are primed to pull off the upset, hoping to put a dent in Florida’s championship hopes while bolstering their own.
The nation’s only fixture between top-10 opponents will take place at 6:45 in the O’Connell Center tonight.
""It's the most exciting meet there's going to be all year," senior Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto said.
For the Bruins, this away meet serves two functions. For starters, a victory in the O’Dome would continue their dominant streak against UF. Carrying a 25-12 all-time series record into this matchup, UCLA has history on its side.
On top of that, a win could potentially catapult the Bruins into a top-three ranking. Defeating then No. 3 Alabama at the Pauley Pavilion last week by a svelte 0.25 point margin, then-No. 6 UCLA proved their mettle, conserving precious momentum to unleash against an opponent that dropped a spot from last week’s rankings.
The upset watch is in full swing, but the Gators have reason to be confident. Florida brings back five 2015 All-Americans to UCLA’s four, returning 17 of 24 routines performed at last season’s National Championships. And, with four freshmen having already made their competitive debuts — the most for UF since 2004 — the Gators boast a blend of youth and experience to complement their leaders.
Bridget Sloan, true to form, remains a consistent yet formidable force at the top of the Gators’ all-around depth chart. Entering this meet having collected her 19th all-around title and eighth SEC Gymnast of the Week award for her superlative showing against Texas Woman’s University, Sloan is the nation’s top-ranked all-around competitor, her nearest competition at this week’s meet being 55th-ranked freshman Katelyn Ohashi.
However, these bears are far from being pushovers. In Road To Nationals’ most current event rankings, UCLA — in spite of placing competitors outside of the national top-20 in the all-around, vault and bars — dominates the floor and balance beam.
Redshirt senior Sadiqua Bynum and junior Hallie Mossett are tied for second on the floor, with junior Angi Cipra not far behind in sixth. On the beam, senior Danusia Francis and redshirt junior Christine Peng-Peng Lee share first place, with Florida’s Ericha Fassbender .050 points behind in fourth.
Lee poses the largest threat to Florida’s winning prospects, coming off of a successful 2015 that saw her net NCAA regional honors in the vault, bars and beam competitions to accompany a runner-up finish at the Pacific-12 conference’s beam showdown.
UF’s coaches and gymnasts are excited to showcase their talents against a difficult opponent in a loud environment.
"The girls have been talking non-stop about competing in the O'Dome," UF coach Jenny Rowland said. "(But) the thing they really talk about most really is the energy."
Follow Alejandro López on Twitter @ajlb95