Patience is part of Gators' strategy

Published: Friday, January 11, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2008 at 12:14 a.m.

Florida's second-ranked gymnastics team is looking to exhibit a little patience this season. The national championship isn't won in January. It is won in April.

The Gators failed to make this realization last year when they surged through the regular-season undefeated and ranked No. 1 for all but one week of the season. Then, the Gators fizzled in the NCAA Championships, finishing third.

"We peaked too early last season," junior Corey Hartung said. "I think we learned from our mistakes last season and our coaches have made some changes. We know when to peak now."

The Gators open their 2008 season tonight at 7 against Illinois-Chicago in the O'Connell Center with a new attitude.

"In the beginning of the season you want to be confident and prepared," sophomore Melanie Sinclair said. "But you don't want to feel like you're peaking. I think we'll handle that better this season."

Florida coach Rhonda Faehn acknowledged last year's mistakes. Faehn said the Gators peaked a few weeks early, and were mentally and physically drained by the time they reached nationals in Salt Lake City. Florida scored a 197.225 at the NCAA Super Six, its lowest score in six meets.

"We've discussed it on countless occasions, the coaching staff as well," Faehn said. "Last year we were probably our strongest right around SECs. Because our season was so long, at nationals we were a little bit tired mentally."

Faehn addressed the problem by reducing the number of meets this season from 12 to 10. She hopes that will keep her team fresh.

"That will help our athletes heading into the postseason and give them a little bit of hunger," Faehn said. "When you have so many competitions you tend to relax a little. You're not on edge. We need to keep them on edge. Hopefully, we'll remedy that this year."

This year's Gators team may be one of its most talented. The Gators, however, lack the depth of last year's squad, having lost seniors Samantha Lutz, Savannah Evans, Breanne King, Katie Rue and Chantelle Tusack.

"This team we have here is possibly better than we had last year," Faehn said. "We may have more strength and talent, even though we might not have as much depth."

A clean bill of health is a reason why. Sinclair, whom Faehn has called the most athletic gymnast she has recruited at Florida, is expected to participate in the all-around this season. Sinclair was limited a year ago as she recovered from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament.

"She showed flashes of brilliance, but was still limited by coming back from her knee injury," Faehn said. "This year she is better physically, doing all four events. Look for her to be that top all-arounder, that marquee athlete we've been looking for and waiting for."

All-American senior Tiffany Murry, who was limited a year ago by various injuries, is also healthy again.

"We're in better shape this year, and healthier, and our routines look better," Hartung said.

Now, if Florida can just learn to pace itself.

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