No. 1 UF gymnastics takes on No. 2


Published: Friday, January 18, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 11:58 p.m.

The nation's No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams don't meet very often on Florida's campus. It's never happened in football. Or basketball. Not even baseball or volleyball.

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Florida junior Corey Hartung performs during the floor exercise against the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Jan. 11. The top-ranked Gators face No. 2 Georgia tonight in the O'Connell Center.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun

Facts

the No. 1 vs. No. 2 events that have taken place in Gainesville involving the University of Florida

Year No. 1 vs. No. 2 Sport Winner
1982* Florida vs. Stanford Women's swimming Florida
1985 Florida vs. Miami Women's golf Florida
1985 Texas vs. Florida Men's swimming Florida
1987 Texas vs. Florida Women's swimming Texas
1989 Stanford vs. Florida Women's tennis Stanford
1990* Stanford vs. Florida Women's tennis Stanford
1993 Stanford vs. Florida Women's tennis Florida
1999 Florida vs. Duke Women's tennis Florida
1999* Florida vs. Stanford Women's tennis Stanford
2002 Florida vs. Georgia Women's tennis Georgia
2003* Stanford vs. Florida Women's tennis Florida
2008 Florida vs. Georgia Gymnastics-
* NCAA Championship

In fact, it's only happened 13 times, the last coming in 2003 when Florida topped Stanford in the NCAA women's tennis championships.

But tonight, the O'Connell Center will host the highest profile No. 1 vs. No. 2 match-up in Gator history when the No. 1 Florida gymnastics team hosts three-time defending national champion and No. 2 Georgia at 7 p.m.

"When it's the No. 1 and No. 2 schools competing against each other, it's always going to be a big deal," Florida junior Corey Hartung said. "There's going to be more people, more fans here."

There will certainly be a bright spotlight on the O'Connell Center. A close-to-capacity crowd is expected tonight, and ESPN2 will provide national television coverage to be shown on tape delay Jan. 28.

"It's big. It's a big deal," Florida sophomore Melanie Sinclair said. "No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation going against each other. It's a big meet. We're excited."

There will not be a lack of subplots to tonight's meet, beginning with the coaches. Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan, who has won eight NCAA Championships and 15 SEC titles in 23 seasons at Georgia, will likely be making her final appearance in the O'Connell Center. Yoculan announced that she will retire following the 2009 season and turn the program over to assistant Jay Clark.

Gators coach Rhonda Faehn, meanwhile, will make her return to the floor tonight. Faehn missed Florida's season-opening win over Illinois-Chicago last week after giving birth to her first child.

This is a rivalry, meanwhile, that has turned frustrating for the Gators in recent years because of Georgia's ability to rise up at the NCAA Championships. In 2005, Florida placed higher than Georgia at the NCAA regionals, only to watch the Bulldogs win the national championship. Last year, Florida battled Georgia to a tie during the regular season in Athens and beat the Bulldogs at the SEC Championships.

Georgia, however, rebounded by topping the No. 1-ranked and undefeated Gators at the NCAA Championships in Salt Lake City for the Bulldogs third consecutive NCAA title.

"That was tough at first," Hartung said. "We're over that now and we've moved on. We're focused on this year now. It was tough knowing we beat them, then at the NCAAs they stepped up a little more than we did."

Florida learned last year that being ranked No. 1 is of no consequence unless it is at the end of the season.

"Of course we're going to accept the glory of being No. 1," Sinclair said. "But to be No. 1 at the end of the season is what we want. That's where we got mixed up last season. We were No. 1 all year and didn't end up No. 1."

Sinclair got a quick taste of the Florida-Georgia rivalry when the teams met last year in Athens. While the Gators were on vault, Sinclair was hit by ice thrown from the crowd.

"I was a little upset about that," Sinclair said. "I thought that was a little rotten by their fans. But I hope our fans welcome them. I hope they're good sports."

Senior Ashley Reed expects this to be the most intense meet of the regular season.

"The intensity level is higher against Georgia than anyone else," Reed said. "We want to beat them more than we want to beat other teams."

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