UF faces Kentucky in gymnastics

Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 12:26 a.m.

School colors will be put away today when Florida’s fifth-ranked gymnastics team (2-1, 1-1 SEC) takes on Kentucky (1-2, 0-2 SEC) inside the O’Connell Center.

Both sides will be sporting pink in the Gators’ Link to Pink Meet dedicated to raising breast cancer awareness.

UF coach Rhonda Faehn said she and her team are honored to be wearing pink and she’s also hoping her team will come out a little more competitive after suffering a 196.375-195.425 upset loss to No. 8 Arkansas, causing UF to lose its No. 1 ranking.

Against the Razorbacks, UF saw a 0.575 lead disappear on the final rotation when its last three balance beam performers fell during each of their routines.

“We cannot expect to, whether on the road or at home, count falls and come away with a win,” Faehn said. “Our conference is just too strong for that … and our schedule as a whole is too strong for that.”

The Gators will enter Friday’s meet with a little less pressure on themselves. Faehn said she stressed to her athletes all season to not focus on their No. 1 ranking, but now thinks her team will be more focused with that distinction no longer attached to her team.

The loss also caused her team to take a page out of UF quarterback Tim Tebow’s script.

“On the bus after the competition, the first thing they started talking about was Tim Tebow’s speech after the Ole Miss game,” Faehn said. “This is going to cause them to go back in the gym and train harder than they’ve ever trained before and to stay focused. You’re going to have days where you’re sore or you’re tired and things are rough it’s not going to help anyone if you’re dwelling on that. Instead, come in with a nice, positive attitude and train super hard because everybody else is.”

Faehn said that she wanted to see if her squad could endure much more difficult practices. Before, her athletes were so concerned with injuries that their practice suffered and they became timid. That time is over, Faehn said and so far she’s been pleased. She described Monday’s practice as “amazing” and has already seen a more business-like attitude in her players.

“It’s a little bit of a kick in the pants that they cannot take for granted that they are a great gymnastics team,” Faehn said.

UF enters Friday’s meet leading the nation with three all-arounders listed among the nation’s top-25 – redshirt junior Melanie Sinclair (No. T6), freshman Elizabeth Mahlich (No. 9) and senior Corey Hartung (No. 21). UF also has at least one gymnast among the top-10 in each apparatus. Junior Maranda Smith is No. T5 on vault and No. 3 on floor. Sinclair is No. 3 on the uneven bars. Junior Courtney Gladys is No. T8 on the balance beam and Hartung is the No. 2 floor performer.

Kentucky finished seventh in the Southeastern Conference Championships in 2008 and after opening the 2009 season with a 191.100-187.15 over Utah State, the Wildcats dropped matches to both Alabama and LSU.

After last week’s late performance, Faehn said her team isn’t taking the struggling Wildcats lightly. Faehn said she’s anxious to see how her athletes respond after having a week to think about their first loss, something Faehn is glad happened sooner rather than later.

“Good thing to get it out of the way there and not let this happen later on in the season when it’s really crunch time,” she said.

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