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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

After an impressive freshman campaign, Alaina Johnson has so far managed to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

Johnson, who was the 2011 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, remains one of the Gators’ most consistent and productive performers more than midway through the 2012 regular season.

As an all-around competitor, Johnson averages a 39.475, which ranks third in the country. She is also third in the nation on uneven bars with a 9.888 average — only .002 short of the NCAA leader. She ranks 14th nationally on balance beam (9.833) and 21st on vault (9.875).

“I like to be, I guess, perfect,” Johnson said. “I’ve just learned to know my body and to know what type of correction to make and make it on my own.”

When Johnson joined the team in the fall of 2010, coach Rhonda Faehn said she immediately loved Johnson’s cerebral approach to self-improvement. 

“When she finishes something, whether it’s a routine or a skill, I can see she is already analyzing what she did,” Faehn said. “She’s coming to me right away saying, ‘I think I did this,’ or ‘Was this any better?’ She’s self-correcting, which is wonderful because you know the athlete is getting it.”

Last year, Johnson recorded the nation’s second-highest all-around score with a 39.675 against Georgia  and earned All-America first-team honors for vault, bars and floor exercise.

But toward the end of the season, Johnson began to break down physically and struggled with nagging stress fractures in her ribs and shins.

“Something we learned about Alaina as a freshman is that she is a little bit more fragile than some of [the other gymnasts] physically,” Faehn said. “Of course she’s incredibly strong and in phenomenal shape, but it’s a matter that her physical body type cannot withstand the pounding of repetitive meets in a row in all four events.”

Since the durability of Johnson’s 5-foot-1 frame has been a concern, Florida’s coaching staff has made an effort to manage her better this season.

So far, the early rest has been beneficial.

Last Friday, in UF’s 197.85-196.85 victory against then-No. 14 LSU, she won two of her three events.

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She tallied a 9.95 on vault, — tying her career best — to claim the individual title and scored a 9.9 to tie for the win on uneven bars.

Faehn said Johnson would likely see the floor lineup and compete as an all-arounder when No. 2 Florida faces No. 17 Auburn on the road Friday night.

“I’ve been focusing really hard on my landings and making sure that everything is cleaner (on floor),” Johnson said. “But it’ll be good to go out there and show the hard work I put in.”

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