No. 1 Gators rally in final rotation to top No. 4 Alabama

Florida's Nicola Willis performs on the bars Friday in a dual meet against No. 4 Alabama. She scored a 9.750 as the No. 1 Gators rallied to win the match. Below right, teammate Melanie Sinclair performs on the balance beam.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 1:25 a.m.
Florida's chances looked shaky.
The Gators trailed Alabama as the teams moved to their final rotation Friday night in the O'Connell Center. Before closing the meet on the floor, the Gators decided there was an easy way to handle this pressure-packed situation.
"We just said, 'Let's go have fun,' '' freshman Amanda Castillo said. '' 'Let's go show it off.' ''
That's just what the Gators did.
Florida closed the meet with five consecutive 9.90s or better on the floor while Alabama finished with three consecutive falls on beam, resulting in the Gators' 196.825-195.650 come-from-behind win.
The dramatic finish delighted the crowd of 6,074 and taught head coach Rhonda Faehn an important lesson about her team.
"I learned how resilient they are," Faehn said. "It's important under pressure situations you don't melt. They're fighters."
The Gators were performing at home as the top-ranked team for the first time, but hadn't had any success against their conference rival in a while. Florida fell to the Crimson Tide in four meetings last year - twice in the regular season, at the SEC Championships and at the NCAA Championships.
It looked as if the Tide's dominance would continue Friday until Florida rose up in the final moments.
"We knew what we needed to do at the end," Florida's Corey Hartung said. "We got it done as a team."
It appeared Alabama had the meet wrapped up heading into the final rotation. The Tide held a comfortable lead of 0.325.
But Alabama crumbled. The Tide suffered three consecutive falls on the beam - the last coming from two-time Olympic Silver Medalist Terin Humphrey.
Meanwhile, the Gators were electrifying the home crowd on the floor. Savannah Evans posted a 9.90, followed by Ashley Reed's 9.95. Castillo, Hartung and Nicola Willis then ended the meet with consecutive 9.90s.
"That was very exciting," Castillo said. "It was overwhelming."
Florida's 49.525 score on the floor was a season high.
"Coming from behind is all about heart," Reed said. "It was amazing. The fans were great tonight, tremendous."
Faehn called the floor performance "the best all-around performance we've probably ever had."
Alabama's Kassi Price won the all-around with a 39.450 followed closely behind by Florida's Castillo (39.400).
Reed captured the vault title with a 9.900 followed by Castillo's 9.875. Castillo stuck a perfect landing on the bars to share the event title with Hartung and Alabama's Humphrey at 9.900.
Hartung won the beam with a 9.925 while Reed's 9.925 on the floor was a meet-best.
Contact Brandon Zimmerman at 374-5051 or

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