As soon as Sierra Alexander stuck her vault landing on Friday, a huge smile spread across her face.
It was the first time she had done that at the college level.
For the first four weeks of the season, the freshman was forced to watch her team compete from the sidelines.
But when illness and injury depleted Florida’s roster, the Fort Lauderdale native made her debut in the vault lineup at Alabama on Feb. 3 and never left.
Alexander competed in all but one of the next five meets.
So when she earned a collegiate-best 9.875 for her yurchenko full that night in the Gators’ regular season finale, it was a testament to how hard she had worked to stay in the lineup since that matchup with the Crimson Tide.
“This one kind of sets herself apart from everyone else,” Florida coach Jenny Rowland said on Monday.
“After that competition you weren’t going to stop her. … We don’t train vault every day, but she does.”
With the help of Alexander, as well as improvement within the lineup, the Gators have nearly mastered the event.
They are tied with Oklahoma as the second highest-scoring team in the country on the apparatus, trailing only LSU.
When Florida begins its postseason run on Saturday at the SEC Gymnastics Championships in Jacksonville, Rowland is looking for her team to continue that dominance from the regular season not only on the vault but all around.
As the reigning SEC Champions, the Gators have even more pressure to try and repeat their success from last year against stiff competition within their conference.
Four SEC teams are ranked in the top 10 nationally, and seven of the eight teams in the conference are in the top-25.
However, going against that level of competition almost every weekend for the last nine weeks has seasoned Florida’s athletes heading into the most important part of the season.
“SEC is, in my opinion, the toughest conference in college gymnastics,” Rowland said.
“There is no down weekend. … I think it just helps our athletes learn how to compete.”
But while the Gators’ only two losses this season came against teams they will face in the SEC meet — Alabama and LSU — they are looking forward to the challenge and opportunity to redeem themselves.
“This team thrives on SEC weekend,” Rowland said. “It is one of, it not the most, exciting meets of the year.”