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Sunday, June 23, 2024
<p>Florida sophomore gymnast Kytra Hunter works on the balance beam during a meet last season. Hunter matched a career-best of 9.90 on the uneven bars against Ball State on Friday at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Florida recorded its third-highest team score ever in season openers.</p>

Florida sophomore gymnast Kytra Hunter works on the balance beam during a meet last season. Hunter matched a career-best of 9.90 on the uneven bars against Ball State on Friday at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Florida recorded its third-highest team score ever in season openers.

When Kytra Hunter first set foot on the mat in her collegiate debut, success soon followed.

After five meets, Hunter has become a major contributor for the Gators, competing in every match and winning all-around titles in her first three competitions.

Hunter averages 39.23 as an all-around competitor, which is good for 19th nationally. She also has the sixth-highest floor exercise average in the country (9.89).

In addition, Hunter has earned two Southeastern Conference Freshman Gymnast of the Week honors.

“Kytra is just all business,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “She gets her job done, gets her work done … and will continue to push herself to the limit.”

But Hunter’s stellar freshman campaign, which so far is reminiscent of Alaina Johnson’s in 2011 and Ashanée Dickerson’s in 2010, hasn’t been without its flaws.

In two home meets against Illinois-Chicago and top-ranked Arkansas, Hunter recorded a 9.275 on beam and a 9.35 on uneven bars, respectively.

“I did fall on beam and I knew that I cannot let my team down,” Hunter said after UF’s home opener against UIC. “I just had to get myself refocused.”

Most newcomers would let freshman mistakes damage their confidence or linger. Not only has Hunter brushed them off, but she has also learned from her past errors.

Against then-No. 6 Alabama in a 197.725-196.900 loss last Friday, Hunter tied for second as an all-around competitor with a 39.45.

In a relatively clean performance that featured no major falls or miscues, Hunter didn’t score less than a 9.85 in any event.

“It was her first opportunity in an environment like that as a freshman and she wasn’t rattled at all,” Faehn said. “She wasn’t bothered by almost 13,000 fans. That was great to see her response and the way she competed with maturity.”

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Hunter’s composure seems innate, but her discipline is something she acquired during her time in the elite-level squad at Hill’s Gymnastics in Maryland.

Hunter said following in the footsteps of U.S. Olympians Dominique Dawes, Elise Ray and Courtney Kupets, who also competed for Hill’s Gymnastics, helped her learn a lot about self control. 

Her club coach, Kelli Hill, also taught her how to be disciplined in the gym at a young age.

“I just carry [my discipline] in the gym and off of it,” Hunter said. “It’s just made me a stronger person.”

When No. 4 Florida hosts No. 14 LSU in its annual Link to Pink meet, Hunter will compete against freshmen of a similar breed.

The Tigers’ Rheagan Courville, Jessie Jordan and Lloimincia Hall, who make up LSU’s young core, have all earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors this year. Courville edged out Hunter this week to win the accolade after winning four of five individual titles and scoring a 39.45 as an all-arounder against Kentucky.

While Hunter has been on a hot streak lately, Faehn said that she might rest Hunter from floor Friday night for the first time this season.

“She has just really been an unbelievable freshman up to this point,” Faehn said. “I have no doubt that she’ll continue to be amazing out there.”

Florida sophomore gymnast Kytra Hunter works on the balance beam during a meet last season. Hunter matched a career-best of 9.90 on the uneven bars against Ball State on Friday at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Florida recorded its third-highest team score ever in season openers.

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