Gymnasts eye NCAA bid

Florida's Marissa King competes in the vault during the gymnastics meet against Utah at the Stephen C O'Connell Center, in Gainesville, March 16, 2012. Florida won the meet.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, April 6, 2012 at 9:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 6, 2012 at 9:58 p.m.

The top-ranked Florida Gators are in Raleigh, N.C., where they will be joined by No. 12 Ohio State, No. 13 Penn State, No. 20 North Carolina State, No. 26 Kent State and No. 31 North Carolina for today's NCAA Regional Championship beginning at 4 p.m. in N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum.

There are six regionals nationwide, with the top two teams from each moving on to the NCAA Championships in two weeks, something the Gators have managed to accomplish in 29 of the past 30 years (all but 2000).

For the seventh straight season, UF is a No. 1 regional seed. Florida had a streak of six straight regional titles ended last season with a runner-up finish at the North Central Regional in Denver, Col.

“We've had a few great practices,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “The athletes' energy is high and their excitement is high, so we really just want to get out there and get the whole thing going.”

In their last action two weeks ago, the Gators captured the 2012 SEC Championship, their eighth overall, second in the last three years and third under Faehn, now in her 10th season at Florida.

“Even though we said at the beginning of the year that our initial goal was to win the SEC Championship, we never focused on that,” Faehn said. “We hit every single meet as it was, taking each progression as it was, and it's the exact same now heading into regionals. We're looking at shoring up our lineups and making sure everyone is as healthy as possible."

Junior Marissa King, a six-time All-America and the 2011 NCAA Vault Champion, has noticed some intangibles this year that bode well.

“I've said from the beginning of the year that there was something different about this team,” she said. “It's difficult to say what it is, but I feel like everyone's kind of more on the same page. Everyone, especially in my class, we've been through two years of not having great success in the postseason, so we know how it feels, and we don't want to feel that way again. The other girls who are in their lower years have seen it, so they want to be up there with us, too.

“Going into SECs, we had no doubt that we were going to walk out of that arena being winners and champions. We're definitely trying to do the same thing again with the same mindset. There's just a different bond with the girls, and that obviously shows when we perform.”

Faehn has been able to rest her top athletes here and there during the grind of the long season in hopes the Gators will be at their best for the home stretch as they try and win that elusive first NCAA team title.

“Absolutely; it's definitely helped,” Faehn said. “Looking back at the past few seasons, this is the healthiest we've ever been at this time of the season and the freshest mentally that we've ever been at this time of the season. Usually every regional, you're just trying to get through it and survive because it's such a long season.

“I'm really pleased with where that's at right now and I'm pleased for the most part with the health of the athletes.”

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