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Thursday, April 25, 2024

There’s no place like home, and the Gators showed that Friday night in the O’Connell Center.

After opening the season on the road, No. 8 Florida kicked off its home schedule with a 196.575-195.925 victory over No. 7 Arkansas.

The victory gave UF (1-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) its first win of the season and handed Arkansas (1-1, 0-1 SEC) its first loss.

“It was a definite improvement over last week,” UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. “We competed more aggressively.”

After struggling in their opening event against Oklahoma, the Gators came out strong against the Razorbacks, scoring a 49.25 on the vault, the highest score for any event of the evening.

The strong start was capped off by a 9.925 by freshman Ashanée Dickerson, which was good enough for first place on the vault.

On the uneven bars, the team improved on its handstands, which was an issue in its first meet of the season. Despite an uncharacteristic fall by senior Amanda Castillo, the team was able to recover and senior Maranda Smith, who scored a 9.875, took home her first career win on the bars.

“I was always hesitant to start doing bars again,” said Smith, who had shoulder surgery in May. “To come out and win definitely boosted my confidence.”

Even though the Gators performed better against Arkansas than they did in their season-opener, heading into the final rotation their lead was just 0.350.

Freshman Liz Green led off on floor exercises for UF and posted a 9.8, followed by a 9.85 by sophomore Amy Ferguson.

After errors by freshman Randy Stageberg, the team was able to rebound with its final three routines, including a 9.9 by Dickerson.

The 9.9 on the floor gave Dickerson an all-around total of 39.475, good enough to make her the first UF freshman since former All-American Corey Hartung to win all-around titles in her first two collegiate meets.

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“That’s what was amazing,” Faehn said of the team’s ability to rebound in a close meet. “That’s what showed to us that this team not only has the talent … but they also have the mental fight.”

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