Florida Gators gymnastics wins share of second-straight NCAA National Championship

By Jordan McPherson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

After trailing for most of the Super Six for the second-straight year, it came down to sophomore Bridgette Caquatto pulling off a miracle for No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics, which forced a late tie and split the 2014 NCAA Championship on Saturday night in Birmingham, AL.

UF’s final competitor in the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center, Caquatto needed to score a 9.95 on floor if the Gators wanted to earn a share of the national title with the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners.

And she delivered, matching her career-high mark for the third time this season as Florida locked up with Oklahoma for the lead just one year after winning the title for the first time in program history.

“It was absolutely incredible,” Gators head coach Rhonda Faehn said in a post-meet interview. “Our athletes, I mean, they knew what was on the line, and they just competed their hearts out.”

Florida and Oklahoma both posted a 198.175 — the highest score in Super Six history — and subsequently split the title after a long delay as judges attempted to ensure there was no method by which to break the tie. By tying with the Gators, the Sooners became just the sixth program to finish in the top spot. LSU (197.600) finished in third and Alabama (fourth, 197.550), Georgia (fifth, 197.050) and Nebraska (sixth, 196.500) rounded out the field.

Continue Reading » Florida Gators gymnastics wins share of second-straight NCAA National Championship

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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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FOUR BITS: swimming, WNIT, softball, lacrosse

1 » The Florida Gators swimming program won its second national title of the season on Friday when the men’s 800 Meter Freestyle Relay team took down the competition at the 2013 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Indianapolis, IN. Freshman Pawel Werner, redshirt junior Sebastien Rousseau, junior Marcin Cieslak and sophomore Dan Wallace swam the race in a school-record time of 6:13.27 to bring home the title for the second time in the last three seasons. A week earlier on March 22, junior Elizabeth Beisel captured the NCAA title in the 400 Meter Individual Medley in 4:00.49. It was her second individual national title (first in the event) as she previously won the 200 Meter Backstroke in 2012. The Gators men’s and women’s swimming programs each finished in sixth place overall.

2 » Florida women’s basketball certainly did not have a successful regular season, but head coach Amanda Butler’s squad has been playing with renewed intensity in the 2013 Women’s NIT and advanced to the Final Four of the event over the weekend with an 85-80 victory over the James Madison Dukes (25-11) in Harrisonburg, VA. The Gators (22-14), which trailed by one with 1:06 to play, jumped ahead on a jumper by freshman guard January Miller with 53 seconds remaining and never lost the lead again. Junior G Jaterra Bonds hit four free throws down the stretch to extend Florida’s lead and help the team move on in the tournament. Freshman forward Sidney Moss led the way for UF with a game-high 27 points, and Bonds added 20 of her own including the game-clinching free throws.

Florida is in the semifinals of a postseason tournament for just the second time in program history (first since 2000) and are two victories away from their first-ever title. The Gators will next take on Drexel on April 3 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia, PA.

3 » No. 3 Florida softball (35-3, 10-2 SEC) concluded the month of March on Sunday by picking up a road series win over the Ole Miss Rebels (19-21, 1-11 SEC) in Oxford, MS and extending their winning streak to nine games. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (20-2) threw a pair of complete games on Friday and Sunday morning, giving up six hits and one earned run while striking out 11. Rogers also earned her second save of the season in the second half of Sunday’s double-header, pitching three innings in relief of sophomore RHP Alyssa Bache (6-0). The Gators’ hitting was well-rounded throughout the weekend with junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft, senior right fielder Kelsey Horton, sophomore left fielder Brianna Little, freshman first baseman Taylor Schwarz and sophomore second baseman Jessica Damico reach registering at least one multi-RBI outing.

4 » No. 2 Florida lacrosse (13-1, 1-1 ALC) is undefeated no longer as it suffered a tough upset loss at the hands of the No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions (7-3, 2-0 ALC) while on the road in State College, PA. The Gators fell 16-11 on Saturday as the Nittany Lions battled back from a three-goal first-half deficit to outscore the visitors 10-2 in the second half and pull off the victory. Florida will close out the regular season in April and next takes on Johns Hopkins on April 6 at noon in Gainesville, FL.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, gymnastics, tennis, softball

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (30-8, 10-6 SEC) prevailed in a 16-inning marathon on Friday, defeating the Georgia Bulldogs (23-16, 7-9 SEC) 3-2 in the teams’ series opener at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida gave up a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth as Georgia tied things up but neither team posted a run in the following 16 frames. Finally the Gators ended the game by forcing the Bulldogs to commit the first error of the contest for either team. Junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit walked with one out, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and moved over to third thanks to a wild pitch. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana stepped up to the plate with hopes of driving Ramjit home but struck out swinging; however, Fontana’s third strike was dropped and an error by the catcher (a bad throw to first) allowed Ramjit to cross the plate. Right-handed relievers junior Austin Maddox and senior Greg Larson tossed the final 8.2 innings of the game. Maddox struck out five and allowed four hits in 5.2 innings, but Larson (5-0) earned the win after striking out two in three no-hit innings to conclude the contest. Friday’s game was the longest UF has participated in since 1996.

2 » No. 1 Florida gymnastics finished second in Session II of the 2012 NCAA Championships on Friday, advancing to the 2012 NCAA Super Six for a chance to win the first national title in team history. UF finished with a final score of 197.650, just 0.025 behind session winner Alabama. Freshman Kytra Hunter also captured the NCAA all-around individual national title – the first in team history – with a 39.725 in the event. The Gators will compete for the team national championship on Saturday at 4 p.m. (streamed live on ESPN3.com) and the rest of the individual titles on Sunday.

3 » No. 1-seed Florida women’s tennis (19-1) swept the No. 8-seed Tennessee Volunteers (14-12) in 2012 SEC Tournament second-round action on Friday, advancing to the semifinals where they will face No. 4-seed Ole Miss on Saturday at 3 p.m. The Gators easily won the doubles point and got three quick wins from sophomores No. 68 Alex Cercone, No. 51 Sofie Oyen and No. 121 Olivia Janowicz to end the contest relatively early. Florida will participate in the semifinals for the 25th time in school history, continuing their undefeated streak (25-0) in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The No. 4-seed Gators’ men’s tennis team (14-9) was not as fortunate, falling 4-1 to the No. 5-seed Ole Miss Rebels (13-7) and eliminating themselves from the event.

4 » No. 3/4 UF softball (40-5) swept a doubleheader against the Florida International Golden Panthers (24-22) on Friday and will look to close out the series with a victory in game three on Saturday. Florida won the early contest 7-4 behind the offense of freshman left fielder Briana Little (1/3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) and closing ability of freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (S2, 3.0 IP, 4 H, 2 K). The Gators used the strong arm of freshman RHP Lauren Haeger (12-2, CG, 5.0 IP, 3 H, BB, 4 K) to help them coast to a 9-0 shutout victory in the evening game. Haeger (1/4, HR, R), freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2/3, 2 R, BB), sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1/1, HR, R, 2 BB) and junior catcher Kelsey Horton (1/3) contributed two RBIs each in the contest.

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FOUR BITS: gymnastics, baseball, softball, tennis

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics advanced to the 2012 NCAA Championships on Saturday by winning the NCAA Raleigh Regional title with a team score of 197.325. Florida took down Ohio State (196.225) to win the event and also surpassed N.C. State (195.975), Penn State (196.650), North Carolina (194.025) and Kent State (193.575); finishing second, OSU also earned an opportunity to compete for the title. Four Gators won five total event titles on Saturday with junior Ashanée Dickerson posting a season-best 39.65 to claim the all-around for herself. Dickerson shared the vault (9.95) and uneven bars (9.90) titles with sophomore Alaina Johnson and cheered on as junior Marissa King picked up the balance beam (9.925) title and freshman Kytra Hunter won the floor exercise (9.95). Johnson (second), King (fourth) and Hunter (sixth) all finished high in the overall standings, and Florida posted the highest team total in every individual event as well. The victory was UF’s 12th regional title overall and their eighth in the last nine years. The NCAA Championship will be decided from April 20-22.

2 » Likely to lose their top ranking on Monday, No. 1 Gators baseball (25-7, 7-5 SEC) has continued its slide by dropping a home series over the weekend to the No. 7 LSU Tigers (25-7, 8-4 SEC). Florida has now lost five of their last seven games including consecutive three-game series for the first time since 2008. The Gators scored six or more runs in all three games but struggled with their pitching and defense in both the opener and series finale. Florida fell 7-6 to LSU on Thursday as junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (4-1) gave up six earned runs on seven hits with a walk and just two strikeouts in four innings. The Gators rebounded with a 7-0 win Friday thanks to a great performance from sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (3-1, 6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K). Sunday’s game started on a positive note with UF leading 7-2 through three innings. However, Florida’s bullpen gave up six unanswered runs over the final six innings to drop the heartbreaker. Sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson started but only lasted an inning after hitting two batters, giving up two hits and allowing two runs (one earned). The Gators bullpen combined to allow six earned runs on 13 hits as the Tigers fought back for the victory. Already having won the series’ first two games, Florida will look to close out Florida State on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Tallahassee, FL.

3 » No. 6 UF softball (35-4, 15-2 SEC) had a much more successful weekend, sweeping the Ole Miss Rebels (16-21, 3-11 SEC) to extend their winning streak to six games. The Gators got it done on the mound and at the plate, outscoring the Rebels 28-4 in the three games. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (20-2) started the first two games and posted a pair of solid performances by allowing just one earned run on four hits with four walks and nine strikeouts in 11.0 innings (including a complete game effort on Friday). Freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (5-0) concluded the weekend for the Gators by giving up three earned runs on three hits but registering five strikeouts in five innings. Though Florida’s pitching was dominant, the plate work of freshman designated hitter Bailey Castro was even better. Castro combined to go 4/7 with three home runs, eight RBIs, five runs and three walks. She hit two bombs on Sunday including her first career grand slam while registering a career-high seven RBIs. UF will travel to face Central Florida on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Orlando, FL.

4 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (17-1, 10-0 SEC) continued their march to the postseason while clinching at least a share of the 2012 SEC Championship for the regular season with a pair of 7-0 sweeps over the weekend. Florida took down the No. 40 Arkansas Razorbacks (10-10, 2-7 SEC) on Friday and No. 39 LSU (11-10, 4-5 SEC) on Sunday with their players winning all 30 sets they competed in over the weekend. UF has now swept four consecutive opponents and 13 of 18 this season. The Gators will look to win the SEC regular season title outright on Saturday at South Carolina. No. 9 Florida men’s tennis (13-8, 6-4 SEC) was not as successful as their female counterparts, taking down Arkansas (14-10, 1-8 SEC) 7-0 on Friday before falling 4-2 to No. 27 LSU (13-9, 4-6 SEC) on Sunday. The Gators won 15 of 16 sets and were successful in a pair of tiebreakers in the former contest but were beat handily to close out the weekend. UF will host USC on Saturday at 1 p.m. to end the regular season.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow/Meyer, Hunter, Embree, tennis

1 » Though not by any means a definitive statement nor something set in stone, Denver Broncos and former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow made an interesting comment while in Vero Beach, FL speaking about his faith and football career. Tebow told TCPalm.com’s Laurie K. Blandford that he expects former Florida head coach Urban Meyer to return to coaching at some point…but in a different conference.

Tebow also said he thinks Meyer will come back to coaching, but not in the Southeastern Conference. “He definitely loves coaching,” Tebow said, “so he’ll be back soon.”

2 » In an interview with ESPN.com, Gators redshirt junior defensive lineman Omar Hunter explained that he is in the process of losing weight and fighting through injuries but is doing whatever it takes to prove himself to the new coaching staff in order to get plenty of time on the field in 2011. So far it seems to be working. “The message I tried to send was that I was going to be there whether I was hurt or not,” he said. “I’m always going to have their backs and I’m always going to push through injuries for them.”

3 » Three members of Florida’s 2011 NCAA Championship women’s tennis team have advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships. No. 17 sophomore Lauren Embree, competing in singles action, swatted No. 63 Leslie Hureau of Indiana 6-1, 6-0 on Friday to move on and extender her 27-match singles winning streak. She will square off against California’s No. 23 Mari Andersson on Saturday at Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA. No. 7 sophomore Allie Will was not as lucky, falling 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(3) in singles action to No. 18 Nicole Gibbs of Stanford. However, the No. 2 doubles team of Will and freshman Alex Cercone are still alive after defeating Arkansas’ No. 14 duo of Claudine Paulson and Anouk Tigu 6-2, 6-3 on Friday.

4 » On the men’s side, No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix fell in the second round of the championships in singles action, dropping a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 match to Jose Hernandez of North Carolina. Not all is lost for Lacroix, who is part of the No. 17 doubles team with sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. The duo have reached the NCAA quarterfinals after taking down the LSU’s No. 8 team of Sebastian Carlsson and Neal Skupski 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 on Friday. Lacroix and Bangoura will face Louisville’s pair of Austen Childs and Viktor Maksimcuk on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

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Gators tennis in the 2011 NCAA Tournament: Women advance to Elite Eight, men eliminated

The Florida Gators tennis program faced split results at the Taube Tennis Center Stanford, CA. The No. 2 women’s team advanced to the Elite Eight round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, while the No. 8 men were eliminated during Sweet 16 competition.

The Florida women (28-1) lasted through a nail-biter against the No. 15 Clemson Tigers (20-11), defeating them 4-1 with a number of singles matches close until the end.

The Gators started the afternoon by winning the doubles point. The No. 45 pairing of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen earned an 8-3 victory to start Florida off, and the No. 2 duo of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Alex Cercone took down the No. 6 team of Josipa Bek and Keri Wong 8-6 to clinch the point.

Singles action was even tighter. Clemson took the first point as Oyen was beaten 6-3, 6-3, but UF closed the match out with three-straight victories. No. 17 Embree defeated No. 48 Wong (4-6, 6-1, 6-4), and No. 42 junior Joanna Mather fought back to beat No. 114 Nelly Ciolkowski (0-6, 6-4, 6-3). With the match in her hands, No. 54 Cercone won the hardest fought match, capturing a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory to clinch the win.

The Gators have now won 18-straight matches and are set to face Miami (FL) in Elite Eight action on Sunday, May 22 at 3 p.m.

The Florida men (20-9) were not as fortunate on Thursday, falling 4-2 to the Kentucky Wildcats in the round of 16. Kentucky captured the doubles point to start the match and was led by the No. 19 duo of Brad Cox and Eric Quigley, which defeated UF’s No. 17 pairing of senior Alexandre Lacroix and sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. 8-5.

The Wildcats also took the first singles point as No. 90 Alberto Gonzalez beat No. 118 sophomore Bob van Overbeek 6-1, 6-2, but the Gators responded with No. 7 Lacroix topping No. 6 Quigley 6-2, 6-4. No. 40 Bangoura, Jr. took down Cox 6-4, 62 to tie the match 2-2, but Kentucky won the final two match-ups to prevail.

Though the men’s team is no longer in competition, Lacroix and Bangoura will compete in the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships with singles action beginning Wed., May 25 and doubles action starting Thurs., May 26.

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TWO BITS: gymnastics in NCAAs, Hill returns

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators gymnastics will begin semifinal action in the 2011 NCAA Championships on Friday evening at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, OH. Competing in Semifinal II along with Alabama, Kent State, Nebraska, Oregon and Utah, Florida hopes to finish in the top three in order to advance to the NCAA Super Six – the final stage of competition for a national title.

2 » Back wearing orange and blue for the first time since 1994, new Gators wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill is happy to be back home. Calling his return to Gainesville, FL a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hill told University of Florida senior writer Scott Carter that he is the one who reached out to head coach Will Muschamp about joining his first staff. “When he got the job, I sought him out,’’ Hill said. “I’m just very thankful for the opportunity to be able to come back home to your alma mater and to be able to give back to the players, give back to the community, and give back to this wonderful Gator Nation.” Muschamp explained why having Hill on board can help the team be successful. “I think having someone on the coaching staff who attended the University of Florida is really important when dealing with the players,’’ he said. “Aubrey has walked in their footsteps. He has been on their practice field, was in their classrooms and knows the culture of the Gator Nation. He’s accomplished what a lot of these players want to accomplish – he has been part of championship teams.”

You can check out the rest of the feature story by clicking here, though a choice quote has been republished below:

Q: You are the recruiting coordinator. How do you approach recruiting?
A: I really, really enjoy recruiting. Why do I enjoy recruiting? I look back when I was recruited and how important it was in picking a school. As an assistant coach, we have to give them all the information that can help them make a decision. They can pick it for several reasons: football, academics, proximity to home. What we try to do as coaches is try to tie them all in. There is no way I can do my job without the head coach. Sometimes I can’t do my job without the area coach. We all collectively work on getting a kid here. Recruiting is just selling what you believe in, and it’s an easy sell when you are talking about the University of Florida.

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