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Friday, May 24, 2024

Both squads will roll into the O’Connell Center with unshaken records.

Each team is fresh off season-high totals and has gymnasts ranking among the nation’s top all-around competitors.

Despite all their accomplishments, and their undefeated records, either No. 1 Florida or No. 6 Alabama will have to take a hit as the two square off in the O’Connell Center tonight at 7.

Florida will feature its familiar all-arounders, sophomore Ashanée Dickerson (No. 4 in the nation) and freshman Alaina Johnson (No. 5). They will face Crimson Tide junior Geralen Stack-Eaton, the No. 2 all-arounder in the nation, and senior Kayla Hoffman (No. 8), who was named the Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Week.

In addition to Johnson and Dickerson, the Gators will unveil a new, first-time all-arounder. 

Freshman Mackenzie Caquatto has racked up more events by the week, and she will collect her fourth against Alabama with the addition of vault.

“This is my first time doing all-around, so I’m not expecting too much of myself,” Caquatto said. “I’m just going to go out there and try to hit my routines to the best of my ability, the best that I can do. I just want to do like I do in practice and then work up from there.”

Caquatto set herself up for success, as her performances earned her second place in bars, beam and floor last week.

Caquatto said she is not going to enter this meet any differently than the others, even though the team knows the Tide will throw down more competition than the Gators have faced.

“We just have to stay in our bubble,” Caquatto said. “[Coach] Rhonda [Faehn] always tells us, ‘Stay in our bubble. Stay with the team. Focus on what you and the team are doing.’”

Dickerson remembered it was just that team mentality that pulled the squad ahead of Alabama when they faced off at the 2010 SEC Championships.

At the start of the competition, Alabama looked to be the favorite as it shined on vault and the Gators had what Faehn described as their “worst vaulting performance of the year.” 

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“They had a strong start on vault, and I guess they didn’t keep it going,” Dickerson said. “We didn’t have a strong start on vault, but we stayed together as a team. You can’t start really, really high and then just going down because you use all your energy up on one event. You have to stay consistent on all four events to come out with a win.”

That’s what the Gators did, pulling out the victory for the title. Faehn said the team needs to focus just as well when entering competition throughout the season.

“That’s really what we’re working on for this year,” she said. “Our mental strength, our mental toughness and focusing on the fact that there are going to be a few mistakes here and there, but it’s how you respond to them that shows your true success.”

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