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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Moments before her collegiate debut on floor, Mackenzie Caquatto’s thoughts were on her grandmother. 

“This one’s for you,” she said to herself.

The freshman was amid the UF gymnastics team’s annual Link to Pink meet, an effort to raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer.

A pink sea of more than 8,000 people filled the O’Connell Center stands, all to watch the Gators take on North Carolina State and Penn State.

The scene was especially touching to Caquatto, who watched her grandmother push through her own battle with the disease about six years ago.

Her grandmother came out of the fight victorious, and Caquatto and teammates did the same in Friday’s tri-meet win. 

In her first-ever college floor performance, sporting a black leotard printed with a sparkling pink breast cancer ribbon, she earned a 9.900, nabbing second place in the event.

Caquatto also took second for her balance beam routine and uneven parallel bars routines.

“There was a little more meaning behind this meet,” she said. “We did it more for [the breast cancer survivors] than for the team, for the school, for yourself. There was something else back there that really just dug deep in my heart and helped me do as good as I did.”

However, Caquatto wasn’t the only addition to floor Friday night. Another freshman who wasn’t listed for the event when the meet kicked off made a surprise appearance on the lineup.

Following beam, freshman all-arounder Alaina Johnson was pacing off to the side, away from the team.

One of the assistant coaches approached her after her beam performance and asked her if she wanted to finish the meet as an all-arounder.

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Originally, the coaching staff wanted to rest Johnson for Friday’s meet against Alabama.

“I was actually trying to decide if I was going to do floor or not,” Johnson said. “I was trying to decide if my body could handle doing all-around this meet and the next two. You always have a bunch of energy, of course, during competition. So it was hard for me to decide, but I decided that I had enough energy.”

Johnson stepped onto the floor as the lineup’s last competitor and pulled out a 9.925, the event’s highest score on the night.

Her floor performance propelled her to the first all-around title of her college career.

Despite Ashanée Dickerson’s usual all-around dominance, she rested from floor.

Even though Dickerson took off one event, she didn’t hold back in her other competitions.

After she stuck her landing on balance beam, one judge held up a perfect 10.

“My heart was beating really fast and I just started jumping up and down,” Dickerson said. “[Coach] Rhonda [Faehn] told me to go out and wave to the crowd.”

Though the second judge gave Dickerson a 9.950, earning her a total 9.975, the second best score of all time for the Gators.

The gymnasts’ strong individual performances combined for a season-best score of 197.500.

“The team just seems to be getting better and better,” sophomore Marissa King said. “To get a 197.5 is phenomenal — unbelievable to be honest. I’m just kind of speechless about how well we did.”

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