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Florida gymnasts looking for first NCAA title

DULUTH, Ga. — The Big Four's run of dominance in women's gymnastics is on the line.

Georgia, Utah, UCLA and Alabama have combined to win each of the 30 NCAA championships. Florida is the No. 1 seed this week as coaches say there is more parity among the nation's top 12 teams set to compete at the Gwinnett Arena.

The familiar Big Four are among the 12 teams looking to advance on Friday to Saturday's Super Six, but there is more talk of Florida or another new school breaking their hold on the championship.

"I feel like this will be the most competitive NCAA championship in years, possibly ever," said Alabama coach Sarah Patterson.

Alabama is the defending champion and this year's No. 4 seed.

Florida has five top-five finishes in the last six years and based on qualifying scores has the best chance to become the fifth team to win a championship.

"The Big Four, so to speak, I'm sure at some point that's going to come to an end," said Georgia coach Jay Clark. "I know that the Big Four want to keep it in the club as long as they possibly can, but it's a great thing for our sport to have this kind of parity, this kind of excitement."

Florida is led by two-time NCAA Southeast Region gymnast of the year Ashanee Dickerson, a junior. Dickerson's winning all-around score of 39.65 at the Raleigh Regional was the best in the nation.

Freshman Kytra Hunter won the all-around and vault titles at the SEC championship.

"I think this is going to be an absolutely spectacular championship," said Florida coach Rhonda Faehn. "Everyone in both sessions has very talented athletes and very competitive experience throughout the year. So it is going to be just top-notch and so exciting for everyone in the stands."

Utah coach Greg Marsden said Florida has talent and depth but must prove it can handle the pressure that comes with the national championship on the line.

"Florida is the favorite," Marsden said after Thursday's practice. "They are very talented, very deep and the only thing that they haven't done the last few years, because they could have won it several times, is just they haven't handled the pressure. I think if they can do that this year, I think most people believe they are the favorite."

Marsden picked UCLA, Alabama, Utah, Nebraska and Oklahoma as the teams that could compete with Florida for the championship. UCLA is the No. 2 seed, followed by Oklahoma.

Georgia has won a record 10 championships, including five straight from 2005-09, but hasn't advanced to the Super Six the last two years. Utah has won nine titles, but none since 1995.

UCLA, last year's runner-up, won its sixth championship in 2010. Alabama has won five titles.

Florida won the Southeastern Conference championship, also held at the Gwinnett Arena, on March 24.

The familiarity with the arena could be an advantage for the five SEC teams in the NCAA meet. Four SEC teams — Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Arkansas — will compete in Friday night's second semifinal session with Oregon State and Ohio State.

LSU will join Oklahoma, Nebraska and three Pac-12 teams — Utah, UCLA and Stanford — in Friday's first semifinal.

Three teams will advance from each of two semifinals to Saturday's Super Six. Individual event champions will be decided on Sunday.

This is the second year the NCAA meet has been held at a neutral site. Last year's competition was held at Cleveland State's Wolstein Center.