For the UF gymnastics team, life without Bridget Sloan begins tonight.
No. 3 Florida (1-0) hosts No. 21 Auburn (1-0) at 6:45 p.m. in the O’Connell Center, marking the first time Gator fans will get to see the team compete this season.
However, the Gators will be without star junior and fan-favorite Sloan, who is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle she suffered in Florida’s season opener against Ball State.
Sloan’s absence leaves some big shoes to fill, so big in fact that the Gators plan on using multiple gymnasts to fill their injured leader’s role.
Freshman Kennedy Baker is expected to compete in all-around, adding floor to the other three rotations she competed in last week.
Coach Rhonda Faehn said junior Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto, who replaced Sloan on the balance beam Sunday, has a good chance to keep that spot against Auburn.
Faehn also said she was looking at freshman Alex McMurtry, who competed on the vault during Florida’s win on Saturday, as a potential fill-in on beam as well.
"There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that we’re gonna be able to pick it up as a team and fill in Sloan’s spot," Dancose-Giambattisto said. "Rhonda asked us at the end of the meet who wants to fill in Sloan’s spot and who thinks that they can score as high as Sloan’s scores, because she’s obviously a very important component of the team. Everyone raised their hand.
"Everyone’s very confident in their abilities to raise up for the occasion and just perform like we do in the gym."
Baker is also someone who could begin to fill Sloan’s role as the face of the program.
She had a successful first meet against Ball State, scoring 9.825 or higher in her three rotations, and Faehn raved about how impressed she was with the freshman’s performance - particularly the composure she showed in such a pressurized situation.
And although Baker has a much different demeanor than Sloan, Faehn believes she still has a competitive spirit that fans will embrace.
"I would expect the same," Faehn said of how she expects Baker to handle the Auburn meet. "She is a very calm, composed competitor. … When she’s on the equipment, it’s all business, and it’ll be hard pressed to see her crack a smile, but we’re working on it."
"She is a great competitor and I’m excited to see her floor routine because you will see her personality and her attitude come out, which will be nice."
Baker and her teammates will also get their first taste of being on live television for a regular season meet Friday.
The SEC Network will air the meet as its first gymnastics broadcast of the year.
"It’s gonna be a little different to have shorter rotations and times in between," junior Bridgette Caquatto said, "so we’ve practiced it in the gym and it’s gonna be a little more rushed, but it’ll be fun altogether."
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Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto competes on bars during Florida's win against Arkansas on Feb. 14.