Every team has its stars, but depth is what separates the best from the rest.
Top-to-bottom quality can be difficult to come by, especially in a collegiate sporting world governed by recruiting rules and eligibility regulations.
Tell that to Florida’s gymnastics team.
Extending their record against top-10 opposition to 4-0 on the year, the No. 2 Gators defeated then-No. 9 Arkansas on Friday by a score of 197.450-195.975 on a night where UF was not at its strongest.
"We intended to rest some of our athletes on the leg events, which are vault and floor," coach Jenny Rowland said.
"Gymnastics is a really long season, and competing all four events every week, day-in and day-out, it’s taxing on the body. … It gave the opportunity for some of our freshmen to step up and fill those roles."
In an effort to preserve her athletes for later in the season, Rowland removed All-America duo Bridget Sloan and Kennedy Baker from the vault and floor lineups, respectively, electing to field a single all-arounder in freshman Alicia Boren.
The first-year gymnast did not disappoint.
Contributing to Florida’s 1.475-point victory — the team’s second-largest of the season — Boren clinched the first all-around title of her career, equalling her collegiate-bests on both the vault and floor.
One of only two freshmen in the national all-around top 20, Boren’s receptiveness to learning has been just one factor that has allowed her to play a leading role in the No. 2 Gators’ continued success.
"I think Alicia has embraced her role and has just run with it," Rowland said.
"Alicia has watched, she’s listened. She’s learned in the gym, she’s learned out of the gym, and really, I think most importantly, Alicia has learned to have fun out on the competition floor. … (I’m) looking forward to see how she ends up this season."
Boren, however, isn’t the only Florida gymnast providing depth to the roster.
Senior Bridgette Caquatto, a four-year letterwoman with an elite pedigree of her own, slotted a season-high 9.925 on the uneven bars on Friday, while freshman Ashley Hiller posted career-highs of 9.700 and 9.775 on both the vault and floor in her O’Connell Center debut.
This year’s squad possesses both the talent needed to make yet another championship run and the chemistry required to turn that goal into a reality.
"I have to say, it’s one of the closest teams that I have ever worked with, and I think that goes to show out on the competition floor," Rowland said.
"They’re all having a good time, they’re all supporting each other and looking forward to moving on and continuing a strong season."