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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The crowds may not recognize her just yet, but she’s proven she’s not going anywhere. The Florida gymnastics team debuted freshman Alaina Johnson at last week’s meet against Nebraska, and she made history.

Johnson broke out as an all-around competitor for the No. 1 Gators, hauling in an impressive 39.425 points, the second highest for an all-around debut in Florida history. Johnson fell just behind Samantha Lutz’s 39.45 open in the 2004 season.

Despite her stellar performance, Johnson is not one to sit back and bask in her successes.

“I had my meeting with Alaina, and she did what people would consider phenomenal for her first meet,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “She was very focused, and she told me all the areas that she knew she needed to improve upon and what she needed to work on for the next week. She’s a very smart gymnast and knows what she needs to do.”

Johnson scored a 9.85 on vault, a 9.925 on uneven parallel bars, a 9.750 on balance beam and a 9.9 on floor exercise. Johnson’s scores place her third in the nation among all-arounders, just  behind sophomore all-arounder Ashanée Dickerson.

Johnson, with her southern accent and 5-foot-1 frame, came to UF from Tyler, Texas — where she racked up gymnastic skills and accolades since she began the sport at age 5.

The 2008 and 2010 Texas Gymnast of the Year trained at Texas East Gymnastics, where she made the U.S. Senior National Team from 2008 to 2010 and attended the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008. Johnson said it was the warmth of UF’s program that drove her want to secure a spot on the roster.

“The reason why I picked Florida was I liked the coaches a lot, and I felt comfortable being around them and Rhonda especially,” she said. “I just felt like I had known her for a long time, even though it was the first time I had met her.”

Now, Johnson joins Dickerson as a key force for the all-around realm. Last year, Dickerson walked into the same position that Johnson is currently in, starting as a competitor in four events.

“My first meet, I felt a little bit of pressure because I didn’t know what to expect,” Dickerson said. “Now that I know what it’s like to compete in all four events in every meet, I can help Alaina out and tell her the different cues.”

However, Faehn said the two aren’t in heavy competition with one another, describing them as “the most selfless and team-oriented athletes.”

Johnson is already working on setting her sights on this Friday’s meet against No. 16 Kentucky and how she can polish her performances.

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“There’s always different things that I can improve on,” she said. “And I need to be sure to not step back any.”

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