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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Florida didn’t get off to the start it wanted to in the NCAA North Central Regional, much like its rough start at the Southeastern Conference Championships.

But just as they did at the SECs, the No. 4 Gators (20-2, 5-1 SEC) rallied and took home first place in Salt Lake City with a season-high team score of 197.675 to advance to the NCAA Championships for the 28th time in the event’s 29-year history.

After a slow start on floor, where UF had to count a lower score after freshmen Marissa King and Randy Stageberg stumbled out of bounds, the team registered a season high on vault.

“We were in the corral after floor, and I told them we’re going to throw away what happened and be extremely aggressive and finish strong,” UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. “I told them we’re going to go out there and have the vault of our lives.”

That’s just what the team did on the way to a 49.5 on vault, anchored by a pair of 9.9s from King and senior Maranda Smith, as well as a 9.95 from freshman Ashanée Dickerson, tying her best vault routine of the season.

“The energy we carried from floor to vault helped us throughout the whole competition,” Smith said.

Florida took that momentum from vault into its bar routines, where Dickerson led off with a season-best 9.9, en route to winning the regional’s all-around title with a season-high 39.70.

Dickerson’s 9.9 was accompanied by the same score from both Smith and senior Amanda Castillo.

Heading into the final rotation of the night, No. 10 Utah was finished with its competition and was the leader on the scoreboard with a 196.900, while the Gators needed at least a 48.825 on beam to surpass the Utes.

They did just that, and then some, as the team put together its best beam score of the season.

All five of the scores Florida counted on beam set or tied season bests for the gymnasts, including 9.9s from King, senior Courtney Gladys and sophomore Elizabeth Mahlich. Freshman Liz Green scored a 9.925 and Dickerson earned a 9.95 to take home the meet’s beam title.

The 49.575 was enough to secure the win and advance to the NCAA Championships in Gainesville, where Utah will join the Gators as the other team to advance from the region.

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“It again just shows the mental toughness of this young team, that their focus was just 100 percent on finishing strong,” Faehn said. “They were competing to win, not just make it.”

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