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Tuesday, March 05, 2024
<p>Alicia Boren performs on the uneven parallel bars during Florida's win against Alabama on Jan. 29, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Alicia Boren performs on the uneven parallel bars during Florida's win against Alabama on Jan. 29, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.

It’s finally their turn.

After watching both the men’s and women’s basketball teams open their home season schedules at the O’Connell Center over the last three weeks, the gymnastics team’s chance has finally arrived.

“I am very excited to come home, especially in the new arena,” sophomore Alicia Boren said. “It is going to be a new experience for all of us, including the freshmen, and I think we are going to do good.”

Tonight, the No. 3 Gators take on No. 14 Kentucky at home in front of a crowd that averaged over 7,400 during the 2016 season — the fifth-highest attendance average in the country for the sport.

This meet also opens Florida’s SEC schedule, a slate that neither the team nor the coaches are taking lightly.

Last season, four SEC teams made the NCAA Super Six, the most of any conference.

So Florida knows if it wants to make it back to the NCAA championship in April, it will have to perform well against other teams in its conference.

“It’s extremely hard, but we love being part of the SEC,” junior Alex McMurtry said. “I think it just pushes us to be that much better. Even when we were here Friday night, we were watching some of the meets, and we know how great every team is out there. We know it’s going to be a fun season, but I can’t wait to start with an SEC meet.”

Though UF has been looking forward to its home opener for months, it has had an unconventional week leading up to it.

Florida’s head coach Jenny Rowland, who is a “Brevet level judge,” flew directly from the Gators’ last meet in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Sunday to a seminar in Indianapolis to review the Brevet scoring code, where she has been all week.

And while Florida hopes to have its head coach back sometime during the meet, in her absence, assistant coaches Adrian Burde and Owen Field have taken over her coaching responsibilities in practice this week and will continue to do so during the Gators’ matchup against the Wildcats.

“We know exactly what we need to do,” McMurtry said. “And if I have mistakes, I know what Jenny would say if she were here. So I think we will definitely be OK. We hope she comes into the meet at a good time on Friday night so we can have our head coach lead us through the way. But I think we will be all right.”

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And so now, nearly ten months since their last home meet, the Gators are ready to compete in their new arena in front of their fans.

“You don’t have to bring as much energy in the O’Dome because it is the environment we’re in,” McMurtry said. “Of course we are going to be loud, and we are going to have a great time, but it is just a whole lot easier in the O’Dome with thousands of Gator fans.”

Contact Lauren Staff at lstaff@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @lstaff27.

Alicia Boren performs on the uneven parallel bars during Florida's win against Alabama on Jan. 29, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.

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