Spicer a key ingredient for Gators' success

Florida junior gymnast Rachel Spicer plays an integral role for the Gators, who begin defense of their first NCAA title Friday night in Birmingham, Ala.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 5:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 5:46 p.m.

A certain junior has really spiced up the lineup for the top-ranked Florida gymnastics team.

Rachel Spicer has come into her own and become a regular for the Gators on three events (vault, balance beam and floor exercise) this season heading into the 2014 NCAA Championships.

For the Highland Village, Texas, native, it's the culmination of a gritty effort that began as a 17-year-old when she graduated high school early to join the UF program in December of 2011, competed in the Gators' 2012 season-opener at N.C. State on Jan. 6 and then attended her first college classes — all within a matter of weeks.

“I think I actually handled it very well, and my parents were surprised,” Spicer said. “I went from my parents cooking me meals and doing everything for me to coming here and doing everything on my own, figuring out where to go for classes and motivating myself for practice.

“It was a big adjustment, but looking back on it, I wouldn't change anything. It definitely made me grow as a person a lot faster than most 17-year-olds.”

Spicer, known as “Spicy” in UF circles, is now a key component for the Gators, who begin defense of their first NCAA title Friday night in Birmingham, Ala.

She has set or tied her collegiate-best marks in every event in which she competes this season, highlighted by a near-perfect 9.975 on floor against Georgia. She's also recorded a 9.90 on beam against LSU that matched her previous-best (2013 SEC Championships) and upped her top mark on vault to a 9.90 at the 2014 SEC Championships last month.

A top all-around gymnast at the club level while competing for Metroplex Gymnastics, Spicer suffered a hyperextended elbow while performing an uneven bars routine at a fall practice her sophomore year at UF that limited her contributions in 2013 and has precluded her from competing as an all-arounder at the college level.

“She often goes unnoticed because she is one of the lead-off positions right at the front of the line in all three events,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “Because you're not doing all four events, you don't get quite as noticed, but the fact is that she is so solid and has really gone from competing in one event last year to being a really solid contributor in three events for us.

“She is great. She is so steady and very even, and it's fun to watch her out there having success this year.”

The smile on Spicer's face tells all.

“It's finally my time to shine and what I've been waiting for,” she said. “Now I actually get the chance to go out and compete floor, beam and vault consistently, so it's been such an honor to have the chance to do that and have my scores count as well.

“I've finally figured it out, and it's just great to be able to compete. Looking back at my freshman year, I have made so much progress since then. It's very comforting for me to see how far I've come as a person.”

With another year still ahead, expect Spicer, a two-time NACGC Scholastic All-American and a member of the 2014 SEC Academic Honor Roll, to continue to trend upward.

“When she came in, right away we expected her to contribute, and she did,” Faehn said. “She was a consistent performer on beam for us the whole time. I think her sophomore year was a real challenge, because she hurt her elbow in the fall and it was a very serious injury. It really limited her training and limited her competition time, so that was not a great year.

“This year, she's healthy and been able to train on three events, and I feel like she's been able to contribute and perform the way that she wanted to be able to. She's coming into her own, and I think that there are going to be even greater things ahead for Spicy.”

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