As the team is sitting on the mats, anxiously waiting for its last practice at the O’Connell Center to begin, Mackenzie Caquatto playfully tackles teammate Marissa King.
The freshman is giggling, lighting up the Ted Crom Gymnastics Studio with more energy than should fit into her petite, 5-foot-nothing frame.
Caquatto, or “Macko” as her teammates call her, brings an unmatched lightness to the team, but her performances are anything but that.
This weekend at the NCAA National Championships in Cleveland, she will grace every single event, joining fellow freshman Alaina Johnson and sophomore Ashanée Dickerson in the all-around.
The Naperville, Ill., native made an impressive all-around debut earlier this season against Alabama, posting the highest total ever for a Gator making her premiere at the position with a 39.575.
But, after rolling her ankle in a routine practice just before the Southeastern Conference Championships, Caquatto has yet to compete as an all-arounder in the postseason.
The freshman is a force on beam, an event that has proven especially difficult for the Gators this season. She posted a 9.975 in the event during a regular-season competition against West Virginia, matching the nation’s highest score.
Caquatto has slowly added more events to her repertoire as her ankle healed, performing only on bars at the SEC Championships before re-adding beam at regionals, posting a solid 9.850.
Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said Caquatto’s energy makes a big difference for her team, no matter which routines she performs.
“When she doesn’t compete, it’s very obvious that she’s missed,” Faehn said. “She defuses any situation. She calms people down.”
Faehn said she was disappointed in the team’s lack of energy during the NCAA North Central Regional competition on April 2, but King said it has been difficult to find that pep as the season nears its end.
“Season’s so long,” King said. “Do you really expect everyone to be able to be on that high of an adrenaline [rush] every meet?
“It gets tiring, and your bodies don’t function, don’t produce endorphins that they used to at the beginning of season.”
But Faehn was not only disappointed in the team’s energy at regionals, as she said she was upset with the lack of leadership as well.
Caquatto said the team is full of leaders, and any gymnast can step up again at any moment.
“Everyone has a different role, a different part they play on the team as a leader,” Caquatto said. “Some people are quiet leaders, and some people are up-in-your-face leaders.”
When asked what type of leader she was, Caquatto chuckled, admitting that she was an “in-your-face” type.
“I’m a loud person,” she said. “I’m the one who can make everyone laugh when they’re taking things a little bit too seriously or they just need a little break. I’m kind of the goofball.”
As the season has progressed, the self-described “cheering” Gator said her support now comes more from the heart.
“We understand each other more,” Caquatto said. “When I first got here, I didn’t know everyone as well. Of course everyone was still cheering inside the gym, but now, there’s more feelings behind it. You mean it more.”