They say fairy tales don’t exist, but there was something special about Friday’s Senior Night gymnastics meet against visiting North Carolina.
Sure, it served as a bookend to yet another successful regular season of Gator gymnastics, but the charged atmosphere pointed to something more.
As soon as the departing senior class of Bridget Sloan, Bridgette Caquatto, Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto and Morgan Frazier was introduced to the home crowd for the final time prior to No. 2 Florida’s 198.05-193.725 win over North Carolina, you just knew it.
Something huge was going to happen, and if you were to ask any one of the 7,039 in attendance at the O’Connell Center, they’d tell you they witnessed history.
“What an evening,” head coach Jenny Rowland said. “This really was an amazing night for the team, for the seniors, for the coaching staff, for everybody.”
The meet was over from the jump.
With the Tar Heels (5-12, 2-3 East Coast Gymnastics League) struggling to get anything going on the uneven bars, Florida (8-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) blitzed out to an early 0.975-point advantage on vault, led by a trifecta of 9.925’s from Sloan and sophomores Kennedy Baker and Alex McMurtry. Morgan Lane and Kaitlynn Hedelund provided rotational-high scores of 9.800 for UNC.
If the first rotation put this contest away, the second made it one to remember.
Leading off on the uneven bars, Baker’s career-high-tying 9.875 foreshadowed things to come. Later on, Caquatto notched a 9.925, good for third in the event. However, the Gators’ five-six tandem of Sloan and McMurtry made sparks fly.
Sloan whipped up a frenzy, inciting the crowd by coming within 0.025 points of a perfect 10. McMurtry drove them mad: Upon sticking her dismount, the incendiary crowd exploded, imploring the judges to recognize perfection.
When the dust settled, they got their wish. McMurtry’s perfect 10 pushed the Florida lead out to a whopping 2.350 points heading into the third rotation.
“I just want to say that this night was not about me,” McMurtry said. “Yes, I had a great meet, but these seniors are exceptional, and they’ve been the best role models and leaders for me.”
The Gators slept-walked through their next rotation, averaging a 9.850 on the balance beam and cleaving UNC’s deficit to 3.250. McMurtry notched a team-leading 9.925. Boren, Baker and Sloan came up strong in support, registering scores of 9.875, 9.850 and 9.825, respectively.
With one final floor routine to go, Florida’s lead stood at 148.375-145.075. And, true to form, Sloan and Caquatto gave the O’Dome crowd a fitting send-off.
Adding to her legend, Sloan slammed the book shut on her illustrious career in mythical fashion, crushing a perfect 10 in her last floor routine and eliciting a standing ovation from the fans.
“Floor is just an event that I always strive for a ten (in), and lately, it just hasn’t happened,” Sloan said. “As I told (assistant coach) Adrian (Burde) before, he came over to me, and he normally tells me these little corrections or things to think about. But tonight, he was just like ‘go out there and have fun,’ and I was like ‘you know what, I’m going to.’”
Caquatto, anchoring Florida’s floor rotation like she’s done so often before, scored a 9.950, closing the dual in style.
“This was their last chance,” McMurtry said, “and for every time they raised their arms to salute, I wanted them to make it, to have the biggest smile on their face, because that’s what they deserve.
“It comes down to one night, and they definitely showed it off tonight.”
At the end of it all, Florida emerged victorious, and the Gators now prepare for the Southeastern Conference Championships, which take place on March 19 in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
“It’s hard to realize that I’ve only been here for nine months, but these seniors — these Gators, everybody on the team — mean so much to me, and I’m just so incredibly proud with how they’ve handled this season thus far,” Rowland said.
“It is not over. I told them before the meet started that this is just another meet. I don’t want to take Senior Night away from them, but it was just another meet. We can celebrate afterwards.”
Contact Alejandro Lopez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ajlb95.
Bridget Sloan celebrates with coach Jenny Rowland during Florida's 198.050-193.725 win over North Carolina on March 11, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.