Florida fans didn't have to wait long for their 10 from the incredible Gators gymnastics team on Friday night: It came from Kytra Hunter, who nailed her 1½ twisting Yurchenko for the second straight week and collected a second straight 10.0 on vault, Florida's first rotation.
And though Hunter set the bar as high as it goes, a night of nearly matching it gave No. 2 Florida a 198.125-197.625 win over No. 3 LSU, and made it abundantly clear that these Gators are the nation's best team.
Hunter's 10.0 was the most historic happening, as one might expect. It made her the first and only Gator since Susan Hines in 1998 to post 10.0s in back-to-back competitions on the vault, the first and only Gator since Hines to record four 10.0s in a single season, and the first Gator, period, to record multiple 10.0s on more than one apparatus.
Hunter almost recorded two 10.0s on the night, too, but had to settle for an event-winning 9.975 on floor exercise after this nearly flawless routine:
And yet those two show-stopping performances couldn't get her an all-around title, because the only other gymnast who could be the best one in the country is her teammate. Hunter, the 2012 NCAA individual champion, scored a 9.650 on the balance beam after a shaky routine, and 2013 NCAA individual champion Bridget Sloan, who won the balance beam with a 9.950, took her sixth consecutive all-around title on the night with a 39.700 that featured nothing worse than a 9.900. Hunter may have four 10.0s on the year, but only one has helped her win the all-around competition — and even that one, which came on January 24, only helped her share it with Sloan.
And beyond Hunter and Sloan, Florida kept rolling on this night to post just the eighth score of 198.000 or better in program history. Alaina Johnson turned in 9.925s on the vault, bars, and floor, and a 9.875 on beam, finishing third behind Sloan and LSU's Rheagan Courville with an impressive 39.600 in the all-around; freshman Claire Boyce continued her strong first year on beam with a 9.900 that tied her for third on the apparatus; Mackenzie Caquatto, given the night off on floor, scored no worse than a 9.875 in the other three rotations. Florida counted four scores of 9.900 or better on the vault, beam, and floor, and scored nothing worse on bars than the 9.850 that Bridgette Caquatto, Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto, and Hunter all managed.
And yet, despite all that excellence, the Gators were outpaced by 0.025 on both the vault — against the nation's No. 2 team on vault — and bars — where Courville and Sarie Morrison shared the top spot with scores of 9.950. And Florida trailed by 0.050 at the halfway point despite scoring a season-high 49.525 on the vault and a very strong 49.400 on the bars. For two rotations, LSU executing well
Then the Gators hit the afterburners. The nation's No. 1 beam team scored a season-high 49.550 on the apparatus despite Hunter's struggles, and put up a 49.650 that is the nation's second-best score on the floor this year — behind its own 49.875 explosion from that January 24 meet — and dusted the Tigers, who didn't count a fall or either floor or beam, by half a point.
With that dispatching of this LSU team, Florida has now defeated its two most credible challengers for the national title — the Tigers and Oklahoma — by 0.500 and 0.650 points, respectively. And even though those wins have come at home, where Florida has been beyond incredible, neither one featured the multiple 10.0s Florida threw up against Georgia, or the 10.0 Sloan notched on beam — the sport's most difficult apparatus — against Kentucky.
The Gators have been really, really good in their wins over LSU and Oklahoma ... but anyone paying attention has seen them be better this year.
And so it seems, with months left to go in the 2014 season, that the only people that could possibly knock the defending national champions off their throne are the Gators themselves.