Prior to beginning her career at Florida, the largest crowd that Sierra Alexander had ever performed in front of was just 100, and even then it was made up of mostly parents and friends.
Friday was completely different.
The freshman made her college debut in front of a roaring crowd of more than 14,000 at Alabama, one of the most difficult venues for away teams in all of college gymnastics.
She battled teammates Rachel Gowey and Amanda Cheney for the spot in the vault lineup.
“It was a little crazy,” Alexander said. “I just concentrated on my team and my coaches who are just supporting me, and it was easier for me to get through it.”
Having her team’s support on Friday and throughout this season is something that Alexander doesn’t take for granted, especially as she has fought through injuries.
Her and fellow freshmen Gowey, Amelia Hundley and Maegan Chant all live in the same dorm together, making their bond in and out of the gym even stronger.
Unlike many of her teammates and roommates, though, Alexander didn’t compete at the elite level of gymnastics in high school, which helped her transition better into collegiate gymnastics.
She trained at West Broward Gymnastics Academy, a club team in Davie, Florida, where she competed alone for nearly three years.
“Now I have a team,” Alexander said. “It’s just been amazing. I love it. It’s hard work but it’s so much fun. It’s great to have teammates and people there for you.”
And it’s not the only thing that sets Alexander apart from her team.
Standing side by side, she towers over teammates like Alicia Boren and Ashley Hiller, who both stand at 4-foot-11.
While Florida’s average height is 5-foot-3, Alexander is 5-foot-7. Florida hasn’t had a taller gymnast since the 2007 roster featured two 5-foot-8 gymnasts — Breanne King and Chantelle Tousek.
And though her first vault, which scored a 9.725, was the lowest score of the meet for the Gators, Florida coach Jenny Rowland was proud of how she fought for the opportunity to compete.
“I was very pleased for Sierra,” Rowland said. “She proved in warmups she was ready to perform. … She has been working hard in the gym and really went out and took full advantage (of) it.”
Alexander, who competes on both floor and vault, could make it into the lineup this week again against No. 9 Georgia, especially with her team fighting off an illness.
“She’s had some adversity coming up to competition season,” junior Alex McMurtry said. “She is one of the most powerful gymnasts I’ve ever seen in my life. … I think she could be a huge asset for our vault and floor lineups.”
Contact Lauren Staff at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lstaff27.
UF gymnast Sierra Alexander.