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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Coming into the season, the Gators knew they would have to depend heavily on their underclassmen, including five freshmen who made up the nation’s top recruiting class.

With the graduation of 10-time All-American Corey Hartung and the dismissal of nine-time All-American Melanie Sinclair, UF coach Rhonda Faehn knew her young talent would have to step up quickly for the team to succeed.

No freshman has made a bigger impact already than Ashanée Dickerson, who was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman Gymnast of the Week on Tuesday after her impressive performance against Arkansas in the Gators’ home-opener.

In her first two collegiate meets, Dickerson has won the all-around competition twice, with scores of 39.35 against Oklahoma and 39.475 against Arkansas. The performances make her the first Florida freshman since Hartung to record two all-around wins in her first two collegiate meets.

“I think she’s the best freshman out there,” Faehn said. “I think she’s the best freshman in the SEC.”

Replacing Hartung is a large role to fill, and Dickerson, who is from Jacksonville and has been attending Florida gymnastics meets since she was 8 years old, knows that well.

“Just to be out on the floor in a Gator leotard was a dream come true,” Dickerson said. “To run out of that tunnel was amazing.”

Not even Dickerson expected to have this much success so early in her career. After Friday’s Arkansas meet, she said she was thrilled and surprised to come away with her second all-around victory.

“I don’t think anyone deserves it more so far,” Faehn said. “She works so hard, and she’s very humble and appreciative.”

That hard work has paid off early on this season, as Dickerson’s score against Arkansas was good enough for the second-best all-around score in the nation, behind LSU’s Susan Jackson, who scored a 39.625 last week.

Dickerson’s average of 39.412 also ranks second in the nation to Jackson’s 39.45.

Arguably the biggest sign of Dickerson’s rising stardom for the team is the Gators’ willingness to rely on her when it matters the most.

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The team led by .35 points against Arkansas as it headed into its final event and needed a solid effort on floor exercises to hold off the Razorbacks.

The Gators opened up the event with 9.8 and a 9.85 by freshman Liz Green and sophomore Amy Ferguson, respectively. In the third routine, freshman Randy Stageberg struggled and scored a 9.15.

Following Stageberg, freshman Marissa King and senior Maranda Smith posted a pair of 9.825s and the team was depending on Dickerson, in what she considers to be her best event.

“With Ashanée going up last, we knew she was going to hit,” Faehn said after the meet. “That’s a reassuring feeling.”

Dickerson’s floor exercise earned her a 9.9, which helped seal the victory for Florida and capped off her all-around title performance.

“She’s loaded with even more potential than she’s competing with right now,” Faehn said. “She’s just kind of getting started.”

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