No. 1 Gators meet Arkansas


UF gymnastics coach Rhonda Faehn says she isn't worried about the pressure of being ranked No. 1.

Staff photograph
Published: Friday, January 23, 2009 at 3:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2009 at 3:49 p.m.

The bull’s-eye continues to grow on the back of Florida’s gymnastics team.

Being ranked in the top 5 is nothing new for UF coach Rhonda Faehn and her team, but as the Gators head into Friday’s 8 p.m. meet at No. 8 Arkansas (2-1, 0-0 SEC) they will do so as the No. 1 team in the country for the second consecutive week. Friday’s event also marks the third straight match in which the Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) have faced an opponent ranked in the top 10.

The pressure is certainly on, but Faehn said she’s not worried. She and her athletes don’t worry themselves with poll standings. She even chimes in with classic coach-speak when she says that the Gators are using each match to prepare for even tougher competition after the regular season.

“The key that we have to take away is we have to be looking to what we have to do for the end of the season,” Faehn said. “In years’ past, yes, we’ve had great poll numbers. We’ve been No. 1, we’ve been No. 2, we’ve been No. 3 all the way up to the end of the season. What it’s taught us is that we just only have to focus on getting our athletes prepared so that they’re feeling their absolute best and performing their absolute best when it counts most on that final day of competition.

“Everything leading up to that is not as crucial.”

The Gators might be only two matches into the season, but they already had to face a bit of adversity.

Junior All-American Amanda Castillo is battling bursitis in her ankle, which has kept her from participating in her best event, the floor exercise.

While Castillo has been able to perform – she posted an exercise-high 9.90 score on the balance beam against Oklahoma on Jan. 9 and an impressive 9.875 on the uneven bars against Auburn on Jan. 16 – fellow junior Rebekah Zaiser will not. Zaiser missed the Auburn meet after breaking a bone in her right foot during a practice routine leading up to the meet.

Freshman Nicole Ellis jumped at the chance to take Zaiser’s spot on the balance beam when approached by Faehn. She then posted a personal collegiate-best score of 9.70. It didn’t win the Gators the event, but it left Faehn confident that she can turn to her younger athletes to step up when asked.

With Castillo sidelined for the second straight floor exercise, Faehn again turned to a freshman’s services, as Elizabeth Mahlich nailed a double pike last pass to secure a third place score of 9.875.

But it’s not all about replacements for the Gators. UF’s regulars like senior Corey Hartung and Alicia Goodwin are continuing to impress. Hartung registered collegiate-bests 9.95 in the floor exercise and 9.925 on the uneven bars. She also scored an event-high 39.475 all-around against the Tigers.

Sophomore Alicia Goodwin tied with two of her other teammates – Hartung and redshirt junior Melanie Sinclair – with a 9.925 on the uneven bars. Her score was impressive, but her movements overwhelmed her coach.

“She’s just gorgeous to watch and the judges appreciate that,” Faehn said of Goodwin. “Her body line is really like no other.”

As the Gators prepare for their first road match of the year, Faehn said she isn’t worried about her athletes getting any nerves as they perform in a new environment.

“We have to just continue to make sure that they that they know that we stay in our zone,” she said. “We’re just together as a team and not focusing on things you can’t control – the crowd or anything else – and just go out there and do our routine we’ve been training.”

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