Florida Gators gymnastics reaches Super Six, looks for second straight title

By Jordan McPherson — OnlyGators.com Contributor

Behind a strong all-around performance courtesy of senior Alaina Johnson (T-2nd, 39.600) — who finished with top-five scores on vault (T-5th, 9.900), uneven bars (T-2nd, 9.925) and balance beam (T-2nd, 9.900) —No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics advanced to the Super Six of the NCAA Championships for the third consecutive season and eighth time in the last nine years.

Florida posted a 197.650 in the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center to tie No. 4 Alabama for the top spot in Session II of the semifinals on Friday in Birmingham, AL.

No. 9 Nebraska finished third with a 197.100 to join Florida and Alabama in advancing to the Super Six over Utah (197.025), UCLA (197.000) and Penn State (194.825).

With the win, the Gators will look to defend their national title in Saturday’s Super Six with the field also comprised of Oklahoma, LSU and Georgia. Nebraska is the lone team in the field that did not compete in the 2013 NCAA Championships, when Florida became just the fifth team ever to win an NCAA national title in the sport.

UF competed in the Olympic rotation during its time in the semifinals. After posting its best mark of the season on vault (49.550) at the University Park Regional on April 5, Florida scored a 49.375 team score on the horse — the best team total in both semifinals — to begin competition in Birmingham.

The Gators then extended their lead by notching a 49.550 on bars, the program’s highest total at the NCAA Championships and the fourth-best score in NCAA Semifinals history. Sophomore Bridget Sloan (9.950) posted the highest score on the event, while Johnson (9.925), senior Mackenzie Caquatto (9.925) and sophomore Bridgette Caquatto (9.900) all had big outings to help UF expand its lead.

After taking a .200 advantage over second-place UA halfway through the competition, Florida struggled on beam, earning a 49.300. Sloan fell for the second consecutive meet after checking her balance twice, resulting in a career-low score on 9.200 on Friday for the All-American. The miscue also took her out of contention for the All-Around award.

Despite Sloan’s stumble, Mackenzie Caquatto and Johnson kept the Gators afloat by posting 9.900s on beam while Claire Boyce and junior Kytra Hunter scored 9.850s.

With just one event remaining, Florida rebounded on the floor routine, scoring a 49.425.

After posting sub-9.900 scores all evening, Hunter — who scored four perfect 10s on the floor this season — tied with Boyce and Sloan for a team-best 9.900 to cap the event for UF. Hunter finished with a 39.475 all-around, tying for the eighth-best total in Session II.

NCAA Super Six competition begins Saturday at 7 p.m. and will air live ESPN3.com.

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10 Gator Bites for Friday, April 18

From time to time, OnlyGators.com will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics (20-2) opens up competition in the semifinals of the 2014 NCAA Championships on Friday as it looks to defend the program’s first-ever NCAA National Championship by advancing to the Super Six for the eighth time in the last nine years. UF will compete against Alabama, Nebraska, Penn State, UCLA and Utah on Friday at 8 p.m. in Birmingham, AL with the top three finishers moving on to compete Saturday at 7 p.m. A live video stream of Friday’s event is available by clicking here. ESPN3.com will air Saturday’s Super Six and Sunday’s individual event competitions.

» Gators defensive tackle Dominique Easley drew some positive reviews out of his Pro Day workout on Thursday even despite the fact that he was only competing at about 80-85 percent as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. According to Sports Illustrated contributor Tony Pauline, Easley is “drawing heavy interest” from Chicago, New England, San Francisco and Seattle with the aforementioned teams believing he will go in the second round of May’s 2014 NFL Draft.

Continue Reading » 10 Gator Bites for Friday, April 18

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4 BITS: Every, women’s basketball, gymnastics

1 » Former Florida Gators golfer Matt Every on Sunday clinched his first-ever PGA Tour victory, winning the 2014 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, FL. Every, whose third-round 66 vaulted him into the lead, finished -13 for the tournament and edged Keegan Bradley by a single stroke. The victory results in him receiving earnings of $1.12 million (more than he has made in the rest of his career, combined), 500 FedEx Cup points and an automatic qualification to the 2014 Masters in April. A native of Daytona Beach, FL, Every played at Bay Hill dozens of times throughout his life and long dreamed of winning a PGA Tour event at the course, which is located about an hour from where he grew up.

At Florida from 2003-06, Every was a four-time All-American and three-time first-team All-SEC selection. He is the second former Gators golfer to capture a PGA Tour event title in as many years after Billy Horschel won the 2013 Zurich Classic last April.

Continue Reading » 4 BITS: Every, women’s basketball, gymnastics

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FOUR BITS: Powell, Yeguete, gymnastics, Prather

1 » Florida Gators linebacker Ronald Powell has been listed as one of the “most controversial prospects” in the 2014 NFL Draft by new NFL Media draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki. “Had his tires pumped since high school — entitlement was an issue as a young player and his personality could rub some people the wrong way,” writes Nawrocki. “Has developmental value as a stand-up rush linebacker, but must dedicate himself to the craft and realize he’s no longer the big man on campus.” Deadspin.com points out that Nawrocki is a former Pro Football Weekly senior editor who is notoriously known as the analyst that said Cam Newton had a “fake smile” and considers himself a “straight shooter” by delivering harsh criticisms that may not always be accurate. In the case of Powell, he admitted at times over the last two seasons that he felt entitled as a freshman, but his Florida teammates and coaches have done nothing but rave about him since.

2 » Well-known is the relationship between Gators senior basketball forwards Will Yeguete and Patric Young with four-year-old Kaedyn Ballew, a cancer patient the two met in the hospital last year. Inside Gator Basketball, a weekly show hosted by Mick Hubert with head coach Billy Donovan as a guest, aired this package over the weekend. It takes a closer look at Yeguete’s relationship with Ballew.

Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Powell, Yeguete, gymnastics, Prather

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SIX BITS: Speights, Sloan, fouling, Riggs, Tyus

1 » Golden State Warriors forward/center Marreese Speights put together a career game Monday night as he added a highlight to his otherwise up-and-down NBA career. Speights came off the bench but played starter’s minutes for Golden State in its 123-80 drubbing of Philadelphia 76ers, scoring a career-high 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting with eight boards and three blocks against the team that selected him with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.

He played so well, in fact, that the Warriors home crowd actually chanted “M-V-P” for Speights though he has been mostly a role player for Golden State this season.

2 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics (5-0, 3-0 SEC) held on to its top ranking on Monday coming out of a 197.175-195.45 road victory on Friday over the Kentucky Wildcats (4-4, 1-3 SEC). Leading the way for the Gators in the meet was sophomore Bridget Sloan, who registered her second and Florida’s fourth perfect score of the season with a 10.0 on the balance beam. The defending national title holder in the discipline, Sloan’s 10.0 made her just the second gymnast in program history to register a perfect mark on the beam and the first Gators gymnast to score 10.0s on two different events in a career. For her terrific performance, Sloan honored by the Southeastern Conference for the fourth-straight week with the SEC Gymnast of the Week award.

Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Speights, Sloan, fouling, Riggs, Tyus

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Hunter perfect again; No. 2 Florida tops No. 1 OU

Junior Kytra Hunter did it again.

For the second time in as many meets, Hunter stepped onto the mat with poise, held her head high, took a deep breath and put together a flawless turn at the floor exercise. The result was the same, too: perfection.

Led by Hunter’s 10.0, No. 2 Florida Gators gymnastics (4-0, 2-0 SEC) shut down the No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners (3-1, 1-1 Big 12) on Friday night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville FL, defeating its third ranked and second top-five opponent in four meets this season.

Just one week after Hunter and sophomore Bridget Sloan, the last two defending champions in the NCAA All-Around respectively in 2012 and 2013, posted back-to-back 10.0s on floor, the duo came close to replicating their effort.

First up was Sloan. She failed in her charge, picking up a measly 9.950 after her routine rocked the O’Dome. Little did her teammates, coaches or the fans in attendance know what would come next from Hunter.

Continue Reading » Hunter perfect again; No. 2 Florida tops No. 1 OU

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Perfect Sloan, Hunter push Florida past Georgia

Sophomore Bridget Sloan and junior Kytra Hunter scored perfect 10s on consecutive floor exercise routines Friday night, helping No. 3 Florida Gators gymnastics set a program record in the event on its way to a 198.05-196.70 victory over the No. 6 Georgia Gym Dogs at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

Florida (3-0, 2-0 SEC) beat its third-straight ranked opponent to open the season. The defending national champions routed Georgia (2-3, 1-0 SEC) due in large part to its 49.875 on floor, the highest combined point total ever scored by the team in that rotation. Its 198.05 final score also marked the fifth-highest total in program history.

According to the Gators, Sloan and Hunter each posted 10s on floor for the first time in their collegiate careers; the scores were just the third and fourth 10s registered on floor in team history. It was the first time two Florida gymnasts registered 10s in the same meet and/or same event since 1996 as well as the first time ever for both scores to be posted in the floor rotation. Additionally, no two UF gymnasts had ever scored 10s on floor in the same season, let alone the same meet.

Continue Reading » Perfect Sloan, Hunter push Florida past Georgia

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12 Gator Bites for Wednesday, January 22

From time to time, OnlyGators.com will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Returns from the first two days of practice ahead of the 2014 Senior Bowl have been positive for the three Florida Gators in attendance with cornerback and OnlyGators.com Path to the Draft blogger Jaylen Watkins drawing the most rave reviews on Tuesday. “Watkins balled out today,” said Scout.com’s Jamie Newberg. “Had [a] pick, caused fumble & at least five [pass breakups].” Concurred CBSSports.com’s Dane Brugler: “Watkins is one of the better players here that isn’t much talked about. I’m a big fan.” An AFC scout in attendance at the practices told OnlyGators.com that his team already has Watkins pegged as a potential second day draft selection.

» The first day of the inaugural all-star draft for the 2014 Pro Bowl was held on Tuesday with Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey going off the board as the first player chosen at his position. He will play for Team (Deion) Sanders. The second half of the draft will be held on Wednesday with Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden waiting to be picked.

» San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald tore his biceps tendon in Week 6 but played through the injury all the way up until his team fell in the NFC Championship on Sunday. Now done for the season, McDonald is scheduled to have the tendon reattached with a surgery upcoming, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Check out NINE more Gators news bites…after the break!
Continue Reading » 12 Gator Bites for Wednesday, January 22

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