Big crowds impact road teams' focus

Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.


Tonight's match

WHO: No. 1 Georgia (6-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 5 Florida (4-1, 0-1 SEC)
WHEN: 7 p.m. WHERE: O'Connell Center WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Florida only recorded two wins against Georgia from 1990-2003. But the Gators posted their first dual-meet win over the Bulldogs in Athens since 1983 on Feb. 4, 2005 and also claimed the NCAA Southeast Region team title on April 9, 2005. Georgia, however, went on to win national championship.

Samantha Lutz popped her eyes wide open, raised her eyebrows and clenched her teeth.
This was her reenactment of what she felt walking into Alabama's Coleman Coliseum three years ago as a freshman to perform in front of 11,000 people. Lutz's jitters may have played a factor. She did not score above a 9.750 in the three events she performed.
"It can be nerve-wracking at times," Lutz said of performing in front of large crowds on the road.
Big crowds can bring on big nerves in collegiate gymnastics. And that anxiety can have a major impact in a sport predicated on concentration and focus.
Just last week, or instance, Florida performed in front of the third-largest crowd in NCAA gymnastics history - 15,162 - at Alabama. The crowd was a factor in the outcome, coach Rhonda Faehn said, as the Gators had to count two falls and lost 195.775-194.625.
Florida is looking forward to being on the other side tonight. The home side. The fifth-ranked Gators host defending national champion and No. 1 Georgia at 7 p.m. in the O'Connell Center. It will be the Gators' first home meet since their Jan. 6 season opener. Junior Savannah Evans said the team expects to be energized by the crowd.
"It really does make a huge difference," Evans said. "It's intimidating to the opponents."
Perhaps the most interesting impact crowds can have on gymnastics meets concerns the judges. The Gators believe the judges are influenced - even if subconsciously - by a loud ovation from the crowd.
"We all know how crucial the crowd is when the judges are down on the floor and somebody does a routine and 10,000 fans scream and react to it," Faehn said. "It's hard for everyone to not get caught up in that. Everyone builds on that and the athletes feed on that. It really is an advantage."
Evans agreed. "It's definitely to your advantage when you're home because when you finish your routine the crowd gets into it a little bit more," Evans said. "That helps influence the judges because when the crowd goes crazy they think, 'Oh, maybe that was a good routine.' "
For the most part, however, the Gators' gymnasts say performing in front of more than 10,000 fans is more fun than nerve-wracking. Lutz said once she begins performing her routine she is able to drown out the crowd.
But for the rest of the meet it is inspirational.
"It gives you goose bumps," Lutz said. "There's so much excitement. You feel like it's such a big deal."

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