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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

In a chaotic and overwhelming environment last Friday, UF’s gymnastics team competed against an elite Southeastern Conference opponent.

The same goes for tonight, but this time the crowd will be twice as large and won’t be Gator chomping.

After defeating No. 1 Arkansas in a busy quad meet last Friday and totaling a 197.775, the fifth-highest team score in school history, No. 3 Florida (6-0, 2-0 SEC) will take on defending national champion No. 6 Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) in the Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala., tonight at 8:30.

The Crimson Tide have lost only five times at home in the last decade, and the team’s attendance ranks among the nation’s leaders, as the Coleman Coliseum can hold a maximum capacity of 15,075 for gymnastics.

The last time the Gators won in a dual meet in Tuscaloosa was in 1979.

“I did hear that there’s 15,000 people,” said Kytra Hunter, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week for the second week in a row. “It’s going to be fun. We did compete against a No. 1 team and we can beat [Alabama]. You never know what’s going to come out.”

Alabama averaged 11,971 fans per meet last season, and in its home opener against Georgia on Jan. 13, the attendance was 14,501, more than triple the O’Connell Center crowd of 4,796 that attended the Gators’ season debut against Illinois-Chicago three weeks ago.

While the Gators are battle-tested after last Friday’s quad meet win, the atmosphere in Tuscaloosa presents a whole new challenge for coach Rhonda Faehn’s young squad.

“Over 50-60 percent of the team has never been there,” Faehn said.

“It’s going to be a great experience for them to be able to see a very competitive environment, probably the largest crowd we’ll ever encounter this season.”

During the last decade, Florida vs. Alabama has been a very competitive rivalry, as the home team has won in the regular season the last nine years.

The two squads have also won four of the last five SEC Championships. Since 2007, the two teams are even at 8-8-1.

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In 2011, the Gators handed the Crimson Tide its first loss of the regular season in a 197.550-195.450 clobbering in Gainesville. But Alabama went on to win SEC and NCAA Championships, while UF placed second at the SECs and missed the cut to make the NCAA Super Six by .75 points.

Alabama is coming off a nail-biting 196.325-196.250 win against No. 16 Auburn on the road last Friday. While the Tide don’t have any all-around competitors ranked in the top 25 nationally, it holds the No. 1 vault average in the country (49.333).

Faehn is still determining if her four main all-around competitors — juniors Marissa King and SEC Gymnast of the Week Ashanée Dickerson, sophomore Alaina Johnson and Hunter — will play the same role tonight, although she said the lineups will look similar to last Friday’s rotations.

“We’re going to do what Rhonda said and stay in our own little bubble,” Dickerson said.

“(We’re not going to) worry about what the other team is doing and what the crowd is doing because they want us to mess up.”

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