Alaina Johnson's senior night was always bound to be one to remember. The 10-time All-American has returned to all-around competition in her senior season after injuries sidetracked her career, and has been the unsung great gymnast on Florida's roster for the last three years, overshadowed by Ashanee Dickerson, then Kytra Hunter, then Bridget Sloan.
But Johnson made Friday night unforgettable — and helped Florida get in position to be No. 1 again.
Johnson used scores of 9.95 or better on all four apparaturs to piece together school-record 39.825 in all-around competition, and led the Gators to a 198.325-194.925 victory over West Virginia that featured the nation's best score in 2014 and Florida's third-best score of all time.
Florida started with a strong 49.400 on vault, then found its afterburners, and stuck landing after landing for a 49.625 on the uneven bars, a 49.625 on the balance beam — also a new school record — and a 49.675 on the floor exercise, including Hunter's record fifth 10.0 of the season, and fourth on the floor.
It was an incredible night for individual performances in the O'Dome. Johnson's huge night featured a 9.95 on vault, a 9.975 on bars, a 9.95 on beam, and a 9.95 on the floor — all tying or exceeding her collegiate bests — and broke a record for all-around score set in 1996 by Kristen Guise and tied in 2013 by Hunter. Hunter's 10.0, her fifth of 2013, extends her own school record for 10s in a season, and breaks a tie with Susan Hines for the most career 10.0s recorded by a Gators gymnast. Senior Mackenzie Caquatto's all-around score of 39.625 was impressive on its own, and a career high for her, even if it was a distant second to Johnson's mark.
But the Gators were even better as a team. Florida's beam mark, set one week after a series of bobbles and falls on the beam sent the Gators to their first loss of 2014, eclipses a 49.600 it put up against Minnesota in 2013. Florida scored marks of better than 49.600 on three separate apparatuses for the first time in school history. And the Gators' massive 198.325 team score ranks third all-time behind 198.425 and 198.400 scores tallied last season in that meet against Minnesota and in NCAA Regional competition, respectively.
That 198.325 will propel Florida past LSU for No. 1 in the national gymnastics rankings on Monday. It pushes a huge 197.875 score out of the six scores used in calculating Florida's Regional Qualifying Score, and will boost Florida's RQS from 197.515 to 197.707, lifting the Gators past LSU, which upped its own RQS from 197.605 to 197.660 with a 197.500 in a victory over N.C. State on Friday.
And this, honestly, wasn't Florida operating at full capacity.
The Gators rested Bridget Sloan, the nation's top-ranked gymnast and defending 2013 NCAA champion, on vault and floor, keeping her out of all-around competition for the first time in 2014 — which didn't prevent her from taking the beam event title with a 9.975, or from dancing around the O'Dome for about two hours straight. Hunter scored a 39.575 on the all-around — strong, but not nearly her best score of the season — and didn't record a score of even 9.900 on the night apart from her 10.0. Florida counted nothing lower than a 9.850 on the night, but had just one 9.900+ score on the vault (Johnson's 9.95) and counted a score under 9.900 on each apparatus.
It was a casual dominance: Before the smallest O'Dome crowd of the season — in a year in which Florida broke an attendance record that had stood for 25 years — Florida nailed routine after routine, with the crowd only truly exploding for Hunter's 10.0. I was there, and genuinely thought Florida was merely on the way to a score in the high 197s after three rotations, despite the Gators sitting on a titanic 148.700 total and heading to their best apparatus. I'm not sure there's been a quieter score of 198.000 or better in collegiate gymnastics history; surely, Florida's never scored one.
The Gators have been collegiate gymnastics's most talented team by far all year, regardless of their ranking, and their nation-leading three scores of better than 198.000 on the season show what they're capable of when they're on.
But we haven't seen every Florida gymnast firing on all cylinders at the same time yet.
And if we ever do, the Gators may have no competition outside of the history books.