Sunday marked the start of the No. 3 Gators’ 2015 season, but it also marked the end of an arduous journey for senior Kiersten Wang.
Against Ball State, Wang competed for the first time since the 2013 season, a year in which she appeared poised for a bright future. However, she suffered a devastating injury during the fall semester that followed — two adductor tears in her right leg — putting that future in doubt.
There was hope last winter that the injury would heal quickly and Wang would be able to rejoin her teammates at some point late in the season, but the injury did not heal and she never got the chance to be part of the program’s second consecutive national title as a competitor.
"It was difficult," Wang said. "It’s always harder ‘cause you know you wanna be out there. For me to watch people do floor — like, I love floor, and I wanna perform, … but I know (my teammates) had my back even though I couldn’t be out there."
Wang said she did everything she could to contribute to the team, whether that was moving mats or simply cheering for her team as loud as she could, and she believes the experience has been valuable.
"I think it’s made me appreciate it a little bit more," Wang said. "…I’ve just been seeing all perspectives of what it is to be on a team and the importance of not only just competing, but being there for your teammates in every aspect."
But after the long months of rehab and training, Wang finally got the opportunity to regain the perspective she had desired since the injury — the perspective of a competitor.
She scored a respectable 9.800 in the vault and 9.825 on floor, and coach Rhonda Faehn said she could tell how much the moment meant to Wang.
"It was very, very emotional for her," Faehn said. "You could just see the emotion and the stress level kind of release when she came off the floor, because it had been two years almost since she had competed and a long, hard road back because of the severity of the injury."
She added that the most stressful part for Wang was simply getting over the mental and physiological hurdle of getting her confidence back and having the courage to go back out there, not only because of the long layoff, but also because Wang hasn’t competed since the injury.
"So for her to go out and nail that first floor routine, I think she just had this huge sense of relief that was very overcoming for her, but very exciting at the same time," Faehn said.
"I know she feels she’s pumped, she’s ready, she’s excited to get back out there and do it again."
"Once I was out there, it felt like I was back," she said. "I know this is where I’m supposed to be and it’s what I love doing. Especially after I finished floor, after I hit a floor routine I was just like ‘This is it - I’m back.’"
Sloan update: An MRI revealed Bridget Sloan suffered a severe ankle sprain on Sunday. She was in a boot and on crutches Tuesday.
Sloan injured her ankle during her floor routine in UF’s season-opening win against Ball State.
One rotation earlier, the junior earned a perfect 10 on vault, earning Southeastern Conference Specialist of the Week honors in the process.
UF said in a release that Sloan could return to the lineup late in the season, depending on her recovery time.
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Kiersten Wang performs on the uneven bars during Florida’s win against Kentucky on Feb 22, 2013.