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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Friday night in the O’Connell Center for the fourth-annual Gators Link to Pink meet to support breast cancer awareness, No. 4 Florida (3-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) came out and put together its best performance of the season.

In front of a crowd of 9,198 energized fans — the third-largest in school history — the Gators toppled No. 13 LSU (3-3, 1-2 SEC), 196.725-195.05.

“We had so much energy tonight, and our whole team was just having so much fun,” junior Alicia Goodwin said.

Goodwin, whose aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer last August, led the Gators on the uneven bars with a 9.925 after sticking a double-front dismount to claim her second-consecutive win in the event.

She wasn’t the only Gator to excel on the bars, though, as senior Amanda Castillo scored a season-best 9.875 to take home second place in the event and bounce back after falling during her routines the previous two weeks against Kentucky and Arkansas.

The evening began for the Gators with a solid overall performance on the vault, putting up a total of 49.225, which was anchored by a 9.9 by sophomore Nicole Ellis and a 9.925 by freshman Ashanée Dickerson.

The vault scores were good enough to give the Gators a .550-point lead after one rotation.

It was a lead the team would not relinquish..

“We were just so into our own little bubble,” UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. “The girls were just performing so well and feeding off each other that there was nobody else there, in our heads.”

Florida’s performance Friday night showed how the team has improved in such a short time as 11 of the routines performed by the Gators against the Tigers set or matched collegiate-bests.

Among those was a 9.825 by freshman Liz Green on the balance beam, which was good enough to tie for a share of the event title with LSU’s Susan Jackson, and also marked Green’s second-consecutive title on the event.

Jackson, who came into the meet as the top-rated all-around gymnast in the nation, scored a 39.525 total for the event to take home the all-around title.

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It marked the first time this season that Dickerson did not win the all-around competition.

Dickerson, however, still shined Friday in front of what she said was the largest crowd she had ever been in front of. Her total of 39.450 was her second-best score of the season, just not enough to win.

“I just like being in front of the crowd and feed off of how loud they are,” Dickerson said.

On floor exercise, she utilized the crowd’s energy to propel herself to a 9.925 to tie for the event win with teammate Maranda Smith, who said she felt great against LSU after battling back from injury. 

“I don’t really know what to say about Ashanée because every time she steps out there it’s the same thing. It’s amazing,” Faehn said. “She’s like a cat on the floor.”

Faehn also said she is excited about the progress the team has made so far this season, and that she “definitely thinks” the team is on schedule to peak at the right time.

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