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Tuesday, March 05, 2024
<p>Coach Rhonda Faehn hugs Kytra Hunter following Hunter's balance beam routine during Florida's win against Missouri on Friday in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Coach Rhonda Faehn hugs Kytra Hunter following Hunter's balance beam routine during Florida's win against Missouri on Friday in the O'Connell Center.

The two-time defending champions put the rest of the country on notice Friday night.

No. 4 Florida defeated Missouri 198.225-195.97, putting up the nation’s top score of the season entering the weekend. The Gators dominated from start to finish, with every gymnast giving a great performance.

“They went out and they competed aggressively, but they also had fun,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “The results speak for themselves, that we’re an incredibly strong and talented team.”

In total, the Gators set or tied nine career bests and 12 season bests, and there was at least one Gator with 9.50 in each event. The Gators also had at least four gymnasts who scored a 9.900 or higher in each event.

Of all the bright spots for Florida, senior Kytra Hunter was the brightest.

Faehn considered resting Hunter for the meet, but she was glad she didn’t. After her worst meet of the season last week, Hunter rebounded by winning the all-around title with a 39.750, the second highest all-around score in the nation entering the weekend. She posted three 9.950s and a 9.900 on bars.

“Tonight I told myself ‘Just go out there and have fun,’” Hunter said. “And I definitely had fun tonight and it definitely showed.”

Added Faehn: “She’s just such an incredible athlete, she really is – all four events. She just is so focused, and even in the team meeting before we came out tonight, she had the word, the inspirational word and the quote for the night, and I could see right from the start that she had this kind of fire in her eyes and that it was gonna be a great night for us.”

In realistic terms, the meet was over after the first rotation. Florida scored a season-high 49.550 in the event, leaving Missouri in the dust.

Freshman Kennedy Baker scored her career high in the event with a 9.90 in her first competition since suffering a concussion two weeks ago.

The freshman felt fully healthy, reassuming her place in the all-around lineup.

Florida’s bars rotation was no different, as the Gators scored a 49.525. With the night as good as it was, it was actually their worst rotation of the evening.

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Then came the third rotation, where Florida posted the third-highest beam score in school history with a 49.575, a score it equaled on floor to finish out the night.

With all the lineup changes and injuries this team has faced this season, Hunter said the meet was a statement win, and it shows how good the group can be by season’s end.

“Adversity has hit us so many times, and that’s what we’re sending the message to the other teams,” the senior said. “No matter what’s thrown at us, we’re gonna be strong and we’re gonna finish."

Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24

Coach Rhonda Faehn hugs Kytra Hunter following Hunter's balance beam routine during Florida's win against Missouri on Friday in the O'Connell Center.

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