A Perfect 10

The University of Florida gymnastics team.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Rhonda Faehn isn't preparing her team for the start of the 2006 gymnastics season. She's getting the Gators ready for the end of it.
Faehn, entering her fourth season at UF, will have her gymnasts performing some of the most difficult routines yet this season.
Faehn hopes the higher difficulty will result in higher scores and the chance for the Gators to contend for SEC and NCAA championships.
But the reality is that the Gators may take some lumps in the regular season as they try to perfect their routines. It's at the end of the season when they plan to reap the benefits.
"It's OK if we make some mistakes," Faehn said. "We're not going to get down on ourselves. With time it will get more consistent. In general this team has a very positive mindset about it."
Florida will find out just how ready it is when it opens its' season tonight at 7 against Illinois in the O'Connell Center.
The Gators, however, know that it's not about how you start, but how you finish a season.
"We might have some mistakes in there early on," junior All-American Samantha Lutz said. "We're hoping by the regionals and NCAAs roll around we're on top of our game."
That was the plan a year ago. Faehn increased the skill level on some routines going into last season, but backed off after the team began making mistakes.
Faehn believes that cost her team at nationals where the Gators finished seventh overall.
"We chose to back off a little bit and go for the hit and the win," Faehn said. "But I think that actually worked against us at the end of the season."
Faehn said there will be no turning back this season. She plans to keep the difficult routines in place right through the postseason.
"We're going to stick with it even if we do make mistakes here and there," Faehn said. "We're going to keep pushing them. Those who are more consistent at that level will be in the lineup."
Florida certainly has the talent in place to have a memorable season. The Gators, despite losing seniors Erinn Dooley, Orley Szmuch and Kimberly Schatz, return their top scorer on every event.
The Gators will be anchored by an experienced five-member junior class that includes All-Americans Lutz, Savannah Evans, Breanne King, Katie Rue and Chantelle Tousek.
"We're a lot more mature this year for sure," King said. "We can all kind of show off a little bit."
The Gators' large junior class has been showcased for two seasons now and will be counted on - along with seniors Beth Kleiman and Sherie Owens - for leadership.
"This junior class has always been a big part of this team just because there are so many of us," Lutz said. "We felt a little more pressure last year after being oblivious to the pressure our freshman year. But that's given us a lot of confidence and we feel like we can handle any situation we're put into."
Also figuring into the mix this year is sophomore Nicola Willis, a former member of the Great Britain National Team who sat out last season due to injury, and freshman Corey Hartung, a member of the 2004 U.S. national team who could become an all-arounder this year.
The Gators are excited to get it started tonight.
"It's been very anxious," King said of the build-up to the season-opener. "We're very excited."
You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at zimmerb@gvillesun.com.

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