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Friday, May 24, 2024

Just seconds before she made her all-around debut for the Gators, confusion rushed over freshman Mackenzie Caquatto.

Standing in her bejeweled black leotard, she waited patiently at the tip of the vault’s runway.

The judges had paused, no gymnasts were performing and the meet was at a standstill.

Alabama gymnast, Becca Alexin, had gone onto bars before the signal, causing confusion amongst the judges and incurring a slight delay on the meet.

“I really didn’t know what was going on,” Caquatto said. “I didn’t know if she finished her routine, if she fell, if someone got hurt because I didn’t want to turn around and watch. I was just focused on my vault. [Assistant Coach] Adrian [Burde] told me, ‘Just relax for a second,’ but it was more than a second.”

With the added time, it would’ve been easy for Caquatto’s nerves to build. But they didn’t — not one bit.

The freshman then flowed into vault, finishing with a solid 9.850, and she continued her breakout performances throughout the evening.

Caquatto moved on to bars and posted a 9.900, winning her first event title in college.

She didn’t stop there. After sweeping balance beam and racking up another victory, Caquatto won the all-around competition in her first attempt.

Out of the five all-around participants in the meet, the freshman snagged first place with a final point tally at 39.575, the highest ever for a Gator making her all-around debut.

“I’m speechless,” Caquatto said. “I really didn’t even know what my scores were. I wasn’t really paying attention. I was just trying to stay focused on competing and cheering on the team. The team made a huge score as well, and it was just awesome.”

Collectively, the Gators posted a 197.550, reeling in a victory over No. 6 Alabama. The Crimson Tide scored a 195.450 and was said to be the Gators’ toughest competition of the season, but the meet paved the way for a slew of personal victories for No. 1 Florida.

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Maranda Smith’s parents travel from California to watch her perform, and Friday she served them up something extra special.

After a rough performance in her last competition, Smith stepped out against the Tide and matched her collegiate best on vault with a 9.950.

“I was so happy for Maranda,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “That was just probably one of the best vaults I’ve seen her do and just the enthusiasm that came through after she knew she really stuck that landing, it really energized the team.”

When it came to floor, Smith was stumble-free, performing her routine with ease. She earned a 9.925, far superior to last week’s 9.300.

But Smith wasn’t the only Gator who nailed her vault and floor routines.

After Marissa King stuck her blind landing on vault, her teammates rushed up to her and started chanting, “Ten! Ten! Ten!”

“I dreamt about it a lot,” King said. “Every time I have done it, I’ve always done the half or something that just didn’t really kick it. But [today], I stuck it dead. I finally got it, I stuck it.”

Though King didn’t grasp that perfect ten, she earned a 9.925, a collegiate best for the English gymnast.

But on floor, King did see a 10 from one judge.

“I couldn’t breathe for a second,” she said. “I was like, “Wow, really?”

King’s total ended up being a 9.975, a score she said she deserved because she lifted her foot up, which may have pushed her back that last couple of hundredths.

But King was noticeably ecstatic, thrilled to have been the cherry on top for Florida’s stellar performance against Alabama.

“It was great going last up, just to leave our team on that final note that we are awesome and that we got an awesome team score this week,” she said. “It just proves how great we are.”

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