Starting off on the right foot is as applicable in athletics as it is in everyday life.
And with regular season competition looming on the horizon, UF’s gymnastics team has the opportunity to do just that.
Opening its campaign tonight at 8, first-year head coach Jenny Rowland’s squad is set to face Texas Woman’s University in Kitty Magee Arena in Denton, Texas.
Tonight’s contest marks the second time the teams have gone head-to-head and yet the name breeds a fleeting sense of familiarity.
Florida defeated TWU 197.90-193.40. on Senior Night in the O’Connell Center last season.
While much has been made of the Gators’ recent success at the national level, the Pioneers managed to scrounge together a 9-12 record during the 2015 season, culminating in a fourth-place finish at the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships.
Both programs return nine gymnasts from last year’s squads, and unranked TWU’s group is highlighted by the 2015 USA Gymnastics Collegiate All-American duo of sophomores Alyssa Kelly and Schyler Jones.
While UF will be without Kytra Hunter — who won last season’s meet — Rachel Spicer and Kiersten Wang, the Gators retain senior Bridget Sloan, the only gymnast in program history to have recorded a perfect 10.0 in all four events.
Joining her are Kennedy Baker, Bridgette Caquatto and Alex McMurtry, a quartet that split seven 2015 NCAA All-American selections between them.
Further bolstering the No. 2 Gators’ roster is a five-woman recruiting class ranked No. 2 on the 2015-16 CollegeGymFans.com Top Recruiting Classes list.
Comprising the quintet are former U.S. Senior National Team member Peyton Ernst, 2014 Junior Olympic balance beam champion Lacy Dagen, four-time defending Junior Olympic Level 10 all-around champion Alicia Boren, 2015 Junior Olympic Senior D vault runner-up Ashley Hiller and fourth-place beam competitor Amanda Cheney.
However, UF will be travelling without both Dagen and junior Claire Boyce who are out for the season following injury.
Dagen suffered a torn ACL and Boyce injured her hip, which will require surgery.
Making just their second appearance in Texas in the last 35 years, the evening’s competition marks the twelfth time since 1980 that the Gators will begin their season on the road.
UF has accumulated a 20-16 record in that span.
That first showing in Texas, though, proved to be something special.
Competing at the Fort Worth Convention Center, Sloan and McMurtry put forth consecutive 9.95 bar routines, helping the Gators edge the Utah Red Rocks by the smallest margin in the 34-year history of the NCAA gymnastics championships and bookending a successful season.
Fittingly, the quest for another successful season picks up in the same state where the last left off.
Follow Alejandro López on Twitter @ajlb95
Kennedy Baker performs her floor routine during Florida’s win against Missouri on Feb. 13, 2015.