Florida Gators Weekend Preview: Gymnastics' NCAA Regionals highlights busy Saturday

Ronald Martinez

There will be few things greater than this weekend for Gators fans this year.

The Weekend Preview runs down Florida's non-football, non-basketball, non-track slates on crowded fall and spring weekends. If you have a club sport or other note to include in the Weekend Preview, hit @AlligatorArmy.

Also, yes, we know that the Orange and Blue Debut and Florida Relays are the most important events this weekend. That's why we have articles previewing football's offense and defense/special teams and one previewing the Relays. You should read them!

Gymnastics hosts NCAA Regional

Florida's gymnastics team is on a mission, and looking for a national championship. That journey begins Saturday ... at home in Gainesville, where Florida hosts a 2013 NCAA Regional at 6 p.m.

To advance to the finals of the NCAA Championships, which will be held later this month, teams must place in the top two at their NCAA Regional. For the Gators, who haven't been touched at home this year, that shouldn't be that difficult: Minnesota and Auburn, the two highest-ranked teams among the five visiting Gainesville this weekend, have each taken losses to the Gators in the O'Connell Center, and by more than a full point in each meeting (Auburn fell by 1.625 in January; Minnesota lost by 1.250 on March 1).

Florida simply hasn't faltered at home this season, either, scoring over 198.000 twice, as many times as it has scored under 197.000, and compiling a 6-0 home record with four wins over teams competing in the NCAA Championships. If you don't have anything else to do Saturday night, you could do a lot worse than a $5 or $10 ticket to see some great gymnastics.

Women's tennis finishes home schedule

Yes, it's strange that Florida's women's tennis team will have its Senior Day on the first Sunday in April. But the Gators deserve recognition for what they have done to this point before their season-ending road trip.

Florida plays the first of its two home matches this weekend against Ole Miss on Friday. The Gators hold a 39-3 career mark against the Rebels, and haven't lost to them since a 2009 defeat in Oxford. That match will begin at 5 p.m.

On Sunday, Florida plays a really early 10 a.m. match against Mississippi State, which has never beaten the Gators, and honors seniors Lauren Embree and Caroline Hitimana, part of UF's back-to-back national championship squads. Embree's the bigger name, and both Florida's No. 1 singles player and the No. 1-ranked singles player in the country in her senior year, but she and Hitimana have both been integral parts of the Florida roster in the last four years, and both are undefeated in singles play this season.

If you can make it out to the Ring Tennis Center early on Sunday morning, you should. Florida's likely to host NCAA Tournament play, but you're going to want to see and be part of the tribute to a senior class that has done more than virtually any other senior class in Florida athletics history.

Softball welcomes Mississippi State

Florida's softball juggernaut is back at full whir after a rocky 2012, and the Gators look likely to blaze through the SEC again. Mississippi State comes to Gainesville this weekend, and Florida is likely to chomp the Bulldogs to bits.

The Bulldogs come in on a three-game winning streak, having taken the final game of last weekend's SEC series against Auburn and won midweek games against Jackson State and UAB. But they're 2-7 against the SEC overall, and just 23-12 this year; Florida's in a different class, and has been superb at home, rolling up a 19-1 record and losing only to Tennessee in extra innings.

Hannah Rogers, coming off two straight SEC Player of the Week selections, has a lot to do with that. The Gators ace has a slender 1.11 ERA this season, and has been even stingier in SEC play, allowing seven earned runs in 58.2 innings.

Florida plays on Friday at 6 p.m., on Saturday at 3, and on Sunday at noon.

Lacrosse looks to rebound

Florida's lacrosse team took its first loss of 2013 last weekend when Penn State came back to beat the Gators in State College. Back home in Gainesville, the Gators will be tested again by Johns Hopkins on Saturday.

The Blue Jays haven't beaten Florida since the Gators' inaugural season in 2010, but took them to double overtime in Baltimore in 2012, the closest an American Lacrosse Conference team got to knocking off those Gators. If Florida can stymie Taylor D'Amore, who leads Johns Hopkins with 50 points on the season, the Gators are going to have a great chance to get back to their winning ways, given that the 7-4 Blue Jays have been charitable on defense, allowing eight or more goals in their last seven games.

Florida and Johns Hopkins will begin play at noon on Saturday at Donald R. Dizney Field.

Baseball hits the road

Florida's baseball team has had little experience on the road this season. If they're able to keep their heads away from Gainesville this weekend against Mississippi State, they might just get back over .500 on the year.

Florida's played just five games on the road so far in 2013, and has a 3-2 record in those games, made more impressive by the fact that one of the wins and both of the losses came at Vanderbilt, one of the best teams in the country. And Florida didn't have its weekend rotation fully set when it visited the Commodores two weekends ago, but it does now, seemingly, with Jay Carmichael, Jonathon Crawford, and Danny Young likely to be the weekend progression for the second straight week.

All three pitchers went at least 4.1 innings last weekend, a marked improvement on the staff that has struggled to make it deep into games all season, and Crawford handled Saturday's game all by himself, twirling a shutout. If Carmichael can rebound from his worst outing as a starter (4.1 IP, three earned runs) and Crawford and Young can pitch like they did last weekend, Florida's got a decent chance in each of the three games against the Bulldogs.

Florida's first game is at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Friday, with Saturday's game coming at 4 p.m. and Sunday's at 2:30 p.m.

Men's tennis hits road, comes home

While Florida's women's tennis team is finishing its home slate this weekend, the men's team is on yet another road trip to Mississippi on Friday. Then they'll come home and see Mississippi State to finish Sunday's women's/men's doubleheader at the Ring Tennis Complex.

Florida plays at Ole Miss on Friday at 5 p.m. and at Mississippi State on Sunday at 1 p.m., and is unlikely to win either match, given that both the Rebels and Bulldogs sit in the top 15 of the national rankings. Ole Miss is second in the SEC's Western Division, and all seven of MSU's losses in 2013 have come to teams currently in the nation's top 15, with five of them coming against the SEC.

The Gators come off a sweep of Arkansas last Sunday, but are just 10-8 on the year, and 4-4 in SEC play.

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