Gators face familiar foe


Published: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 12:14 a.m.

There isn't any orange and blue in Coleman Coliseum. But Florida's gymnastics team feels right at home in Alabama's gym.

At least tonight they will.

When No. 4 Florida faces No. 1 Alabama in a dual meet at 8:30 p.m., it will mark the second time in four weeks the Gators have competed in Coleman Coliseum. The gym, the equipment, the crowd will all be a very recognizable to the Gators despite being on the road. As Florida looks to compete with the country's top-scoring team, that familiarity will be a huge help to a team with six freshmen.

"This is something that's familiar to them," Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said. "They will be well prepared this time, and it's going to be even better (than the first)."

The Gators finished second behind only Alabama at the season-opening Super Six Challenge in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 9. The Gators scored a 195.95 that night, despite a few jittery freshmen making their collegiate debuts.

But the Gators (8-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) have increased their score in both meets since then, a sign Florida is maturing quickly and tweaking its routines in practice.

The Gators went from a 195.95 at the Super Six to a 197.10 against LSU to a 197.225 in its quad meet last Friday.

Now, the Gators are looking for more after tweaking a few things in practice this week.

"(Tonight) is not a time to experiment," Faehn said. "Most of our focus is going to be sticking our landings. That's where we have been losing most of our tenths the past couple weeks, and it's the easiest way to gain them back."

Alabama, meanwhile, has also improved its scores each week. The Tide (7-0, 1-0) scored a 196.725 to win the Super Six, followed by a 197.125 on Jan. 16 to beat Penn State and a 197.600 last week to top LSU.

"Alabama has a very powerful program, so we're looking forward to going there," Faehn said. "Their crowd is very knowledgable and very gracious. They appreciate good gymnastics so we're looking forward to that."

The Gators say they will be more comfortable tonight, where a crowd of overmore than 10,000 is expected, than they were on Jan. 9.

"We'll have a lot more confidence," said junior Orley Szmuch, who has won two consecutive all-around titles. "Right now, we have a lot more experience than we did (in the Super Six)."

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