As a team, it wasn’t the Gators’ best performance. But individually, Bridget Sloan wasn’t far off from the best meet of her career.
Top-seeded Florida took home first place in its NCAA Regional on Saturday, scoring a 197.450 in Morgantown, West Virginia over second place Stanford (197.000), Illinois (196.675), Arkansas (196.500), West Virginia (195.650) and New Hampshire (194.825). Florida and Stanford will advance to the NCAA Semifinals, which will be held in two weeks.
The Gators were led by Sloan, who came 0.025 from the best all-around score of her collegiate career with a 39.800. The junior scored a 9.975 on vault, a 9.925 on beam and two 9.950s on bars and floor.
It was the first time Sloan had competed on floor since Jan. 11 when she sprained her ankle in the event in Florida’s season opener, but she looked at ease as she glided around the competition floor.
“She was amazing,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “It was it incredible, it was as if she hadn’t missed a day of training or any of the competitions.”
The rest of the meet wasn’t quite up to Florida’s lofty standards, but it was enough to get the job done, and Faehn was satisfied.
“I was actually really pleased with how they performed,” she said. “Knowing coming into this that this is a very high-pressure situation, I was really proud.”
The Gators started out with a shaky bars rotation aside from Sloan. The highest score from the other five gymnasts was a 9.825 and included a dismount mid-routine from senior Kytra Hunter, resulting in a 49.125 event score.
From there, Florida rebounded with a 49.375 on beam — a much better performance than two weeks ago in the Southeastern Conference Championships. The same six gymnasts from that competition competed Saturday in a slightly different order, with freshman Ericha Fassbender and sophomore Claire Boyce switching the first and third spots and Sloan and Hunter doing the same with fifth and sixth.
Faehn said she moved Fassbender back in the lineup to lighten the pressure on the freshman.
The Gators had a bye after that before competing on floor, where they were led by back-to-back 9.950s from Sloan and Hunter. Junior Bridgette Caquatto suffered her second fall of the season in the event, but the team wasn’t forced to count it.
The team scores were tight before Florida competed on floor and were still relatively close as the Gators began vault.
But that didn’t last long as Florida equalled its second highest vault score in school history with a 49.625. The Gators ended the event — and consequently any doubt of who the winner would be — with Sloan’s 9.975 and consecutive 9.950s from Hunter and freshman Alex McMurtry.
“To finish off with the back three, Bridget, Kytra and Alex — they were just beautiful vaults, just exceptional,” Faehn said, “and it was wonderful to kind of put that exclamation point on the competition.”
Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24
Bridget Sloan smiles after finishing her routine on the uneven parallel bars during the Southeastern Conference Championships on March 21 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia. Sloan earned a perfect 10.0 on the event.