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Friday, September 29, 2023

The bejeweled blue leotards that hugged the Gators gymnastics squad weren’t the only things that shined on the O’Connell Center mats Friday night. No. 3 Florida squashed No. 10 Nebraska with a final score of 196.925 to 194.950.

Senior Maranda Smith, granted a sixth year of eligibility this summer, returned as the first competitor in the opening event of the evening.

“Monday, Adrian (Burde, Gators assistant coach) came up to me during practice and was like ‘You’re going to go first this weekend on vault just to kind of be a face that the judges are used to seeing,’” Smith said. “It felt pretty good that my coaches had that confidence in me and that I could go out there — first up, first meet, first time in 2011 — and be the one to hit a vault.”

Smith got the job done, earning a 9.825. She also recorded a 9.900 performance on floor exercise, a routine that she learned less than a week ago.

“I had a different routine earlier in the preseason, but it just wasn’t really fitting my personality very much,” she said. “It was great music but I just felt that I couldn’t put myself out there and really shine. So I was just excited that I had a floor routine that I loved and performed great and hit all my passes.”

Joining Smith in the second place spot in floor was all-around competitor and freshman Alaina Johnson, just one of the new faces for the Gators this season.

Johnson had an impressive start for the Gators, scoring first in uneven parallel bars (9.925) and second in vault (9.850).

Fellow freshmen Mackenzie Caquatto and Brittney Noble also got their first taste of college competition. Noble three-way tied for third in bars, while Caquatto tied for second. Noble also got her feet wet competing in floor.

“We do have the depth this year that we can play with the lineups which is going to be beneficial for us in the long run,” Faehn said. “We’re going to be able to rest quite a few of the athletes, especially Alaina — she’s not going to be able to handle doing all around every single competition. We’re definitely going to be juggling the lineups a bit this year.”

Returning sophomore Ashanée Dickerson snagged her eighth all-around title, winning the vault, balance beam and floor exercise.

“She just is so solid and I knew it was going to be amazing when she went out and stuck that vault,” Faehn said. “She works so hard and has the best attitude and work out, so it’s nice to see her be able to be rewarded for that.”

On the balance beam, neighboring sophomore Marissa King had a shaky performance, falling to a 9.450.

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“It wasn’t the back series, it was actually in the air where something slightly twisted which made me come down and have that slight wobble — that big wobble,” King said. “It’s beam, you know. Beam is always 50/50.”

King rose up when it came time to floor, earning a 9.875 on a routine she learned a week ago.

“It was new, it was very fresh,” she said. “That’s what I like though because I’ve had my old floor routine for a while and it’s nice to get a new routine, new choreography, a new buzz to the feeling of performing.”

Faehn said that this year’s approach will be to take the season in steps.

“We just want to take it one day at a time and improve every single weekend and do some unbelievable gymnastics,” she said. “And I think that we’re going to have a real positive outcome.”

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