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Monday, March 04, 2024

Eyeing the three-peat: Previewing the 2015 Florida gymnastics season

<p>Bridget Sloan performs a flip on the balance beam during Florida’s win against Kentucky on Feb. 22, 2013, in the O’Connell Center.&nbsp;</p>

Bridget Sloan performs a flip on the balance beam during Florida’s win against Kentucky on Feb. 22, 2013, in the O’Connell Center. 

Every team enters the season hoping to win a championship.

Only one enters the year with the privilege to hope for a repeat.

But when you’re talking about the chance to win three straight titles, you have truly reached rare air.

That is the place the UF gymnastics program finds itself at the start of the 2015 season.

After winning the school’s first national championship in 2013, head coach Rhonda Faehn went right back for a second helping, guiding her team to a share of another title in 2014, which it split with the Oklahoma Sooners with an identical championship score of 198.175.

Winning three titles in a row has only been accomplished twice in the 33 years in which women’s gymnastics has been a championship sport under the NCAA, but the Gators’ chances of doing so are incredibly realistic.

In fact, they are the pre-season favorites.

Florida enters the season ranked No. 1, earning 19 of 31 first place votes in the first poll of the year. Co-defending champion Oklahoma is closely behind at No. 2, followed by LSU, Alabama and UCLA.

The Gators will see plenty of challenges during the season, however, as they will have a road meet against each top-five team except UCLA. Seven of UF’s 10 regular season opponents are ranked in the top 25.

To handle such a daunting task, the Gators will need to rely on the team’s veteran leadership.

Florida returns nine players from its 2014 title campaign, including junior Bridget Sloan and senior Kytra Hunter.

Sloan is a 16-time All-American and was the 2014 NCAA uneven bars champion as a sophomore. She was also the 2013 all-around and balance beam champion in her freshman year and part of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team that took home silver in Beijing.

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Hunter is an 18-time All-American who was part of the All-Southeastern Conference team last season, an honor she has earned in each of her three seasons. She also led the nation with six perfect marks last year — four on the floor and two on vault.

Florida’s first match of the year is against Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, on Jan. 11, and the Gators first home match is the following Friday night, Jan. 16, against the 12th-ranked Auburn Tigers.

Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24

Bridget Sloan performs a flip on the balance beam during Florida’s win against Kentucky on Feb. 22, 2013, in the O’Connell Center. 

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