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Tuesday, April 23, 2024
<p>Kennedy Baker performs her floor exercise routine during the NCAA Gymnastics Super Six on April 16, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas.</p>

Kennedy Baker performs her floor exercise routine during the NCAA Gymnastics Super Six on April 16, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Gators entered the 2017 season with many unknowns.

How would the team step up and fill the huge void left by the four accomplished seniors who graduated after last season?

Would the freshman class be able to successfully handle the pressure of competing at the collegiate level?

And finally, who would emerge as the team’s new leader?

Now, two meets and two wins into the season, those questions have a clearer answer heading into No. 3 Florida’s meet against North Carolina tonight.

In their first meet at N.C. State, the Gators posted a 197.100, the second-highest season-opening team total in the Gators’ 45-year program history.

Last Friday against Kentucky, Florida notched a 197.600, its highest ever SEC-opening-meet score.

“The first two weeks were fantastic,” coach Jenny Rowland said. “We went out there, we were consistent. The girls looked pretty confident. They did everything we asked them to do, they were normal. We are still talking about being normal and did a great job. ... I couldn’t ask for more right now.”

Junior Kennedy Baker, meanwhile, has emerged as the leader for Florida in the all-around, taking home the title in both of the first two meets after winning the title three times in her first two years combined.

Her all-around score of 39.575 from the meet against the Wildcats on Friday is tied for seventh-highest in the nation.

“It feels really, really good,” Baker said. “I think that it has really just built my confidence up. Obviously the team win is most important, but winning for myself feels really good each meet.”

But freshman Amelia Hundley isn’t too far behind her teammate in the event.

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In the first two meets, she has placed third in all-around both times and hasn't scored lower than a 9.80 in her first eight routines.

“Amelia is doing amazing,” Baker said. “She’s just gone out and competed really, really well. And then off the floor, she is a great teammate. She has a lot of energy. She brings a lot of fire to this team. And I think that she is doing a great job as a freshman, and we are all really proud of what she is doing.”

And while the team is traveling to Chapel Hill on a high note, both the coaches and athletes know they still have a lot to prove.

“I think we are just going to go out, and we are going to perform some solid routines,” junior Rachel Slocum said. “I think that we have had a really great start to the season, and I can’t wait for these next couple meets ahead. But we are just going to stay steady throughout this meet this weekend.”

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

Kennedy Baker performs her floor exercise routine during the NCAA Gymnastics Super Six on April 16, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas.

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