By Corey Mitleider, Scott Barr (OGGOA Contributors) and Adam Silverstein
No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics lived up to its national ranking on Saturday, taking home the 2013 Southeastern Conference Championship in Little Rock, AR. Florida edged No. 3 Alabama 198.000-197.800 to capture the ninth league title in program history (third in the last four years) and become the first team to win back-to-back SEC Championships since Georgia won three-straight from 2004-06.
No. 6 LSU (197.700) and No. 5 Georgia (197.325), two other evening session participants, rounded out the top four as no team from the afternoon session was in the running after Auburn led the Session I field with a 195.550. UF had to beat three of the other top six teams in the nation just to win the league title.
The Gators were led on Saturday by 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year Bridget Sloan, who paced Florida with an SEC title-winning score of 39.750 in the all-around. Sloan registered at least 9.925 in each event and split the title with LSU’s Rheagan Courville, the 2013 SEC Gymnast of the Year. She also tied with Georgia’s Brittany Rogers for the SEC title in the uneven bars (9.950) and was part of a five-way tie along with sophomore Kytra Hunter for the SEC title in the floor exercise (9.950).
Scoring a 49.375 on their first rotation (vault), the Gators started the event in last place. However, two 49.500s on bars and balance beam followed by an event-ending 49.625 on floor (each gymnast scored 9.900 or better) pushed Florida into first.
Head coach Rhonda Faehn, who was announced as 2013 SEC Coach of the Year earlier in the week, saw three members of her team be honored individually by the conference. Sloan was announced as a First Team All-SEC member on all-around, bars and floor and was also honored with a nod on the SEC All-Freshman Team. Hunter was also placed on the First Team All-SEC, and senior Ashanée Dickerson received Second Team All-SEC honors.
Faehn’s SEC Coach of the Year honor is her fourth in as many years and sixth since taking over the program in 2003 (2006-07, 2010-13). She is the seventh Gators coach to win the award during the 2012-13 athletic season joining Will Muschamp (football), Billy Donovan (men’s basketball), Mary Wise (volleyball), Becky Burleigh (soccer), Paul Spangler (women’s cross country) and Gregg Troy (men’s swimming).
Sloan is Florida’s fourth-straight SEC Freshman of the Year joining Hunter (2012), junior Alaina Johnson (2011) and Dickerson (2010) as recent winners of the award.
The Gators have a week off before they host one of six NCAA Regional meets at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Saturday, April 6. The teams joining No. 1 Florida in the Gainesville Regional will include the No. 12 and No. 13 ranked squads along with three other programs ranked between No. 19-36, regionally selected based on proximity to Gainesville, FL. The top two teams at each of the six regional events will compete in the NCAA Championships from April 19-21 in Los Angeles, CA.
The SEC title brought home by the gymnastics team is the Gators’ seventh as an athletic program during the 2012-13 season. Florida has also won SEC Championships in men’s basketball (regular season), volleyball, soccer (regular season, tournament), women’s cross country and men’s swimming.
Photo Credit: Southeastern Conference