Back Nine: UF gymnastics returns without a trophy, sort of

Florida gymnastics coach Rhonda Faehn has guided the Gators to back-to-back national championships after UF tied Oklahoma for the NCAA title in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday night.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 21, 2014 at 8:18 p.m.

The Back Nine comes at you after a rainy weekend that was spent watching way too much sports. It's not my fault, it's cable's fault for having so much on TV.

10. If you had told Rhonda Faehn that she'd be on a flight home to Gainesville on Sunday without the national championship trophy, she would have been disappointed to say the least. But that's exactly what happened. When Florida and Oklahoma tied for the title Saturday night, there was only one trophy to give out. “They told us since we already have one, Oklahoma could take it home and they'd mail ours to us,” Faehn said. Instead, the women received smaller versions of the trophy that go to the national titlists and the Sooners will receive their individual ones in the mail. If it's not enough that Faehn has won back-to-back national championships, consider this — Florida had not won anything in gymnastics in the state of Alabama since 1985. The Tide had the home crowd, but Florida had a little something extra. Faehn told The Back Nine on Monday that because of a lack of depth, she held back a little in the SEC Championships and the regional. “It was scary because we couldn't afford to have an injury,” she said. “We had to be careful with the athletes. Even then, they were competing with some serious pain issues.” When you talk about clutch performances in Gator sports history, the 9.95s recorded by Kytra Hunter and Bridgette Caquatto on the final two floor passes of the night have to rank up there. “I didn't know what we needed to win,” Faehn said, “I was so focused on our athletes hitting their routines. When we finished, I was telling them how proud I was whatever the score because we couldn't have done any better. And then (assistant coach) Adrian (Burke) yelled, 'We're tied!' And I said, 'What does that mean?' ” It meant that for the first time in the history of NCAA women's sports, there are co-champions in a sport.

11. So Twitter was all abuzz with questions Saturday night about the potential for a tiebreaker in the gymnastics final. There were a lot of suggestions for how to settle it — balance beam at five paces, dueling uneven parallel bars — but in the end, there is no tiebreaker for the finals. And I think that's great. First of all, any sport where the scoring is so subjective should not come down to a sudden death type of event with judges deciding which floor pass was slightly better than the other. Secondly, two teams were able to celebrate and there is nothing wrong with that. “I've heard arguments of both sides,” Faehn said. “But I agree that the tie is the best way.” The interesting thing is the tiebreaker was used to break a tie on the first night of the competition might have been the difference for Florida. The Gators tied with Alabama on Friday, but had the better total among the dropped scores and received the preferred “Olympic rotation,” which starts with the vault and ends with the floor, as the No. 1 seed from their session. “It was huge,” Faehn said. “The Olympic rotation is something we're more familiar with and not having to finish on beam was big. Alabama had the home crowd, but it's still very nerve-wracking. We were thrilled not to have to finish on beam.” Alabama, which led the championship heading into the final rotation, had two falls on the beam and had to count a 9.35. “It's why we tell our athletes that every score counts,” Faehn said.

12. It was a heady postseason in basketball for the SEC with three teams making the Sweet 16, two in the Final Four and one in the title game. Add in the return of Bruce Pearl to the league and it appeared the conference was at least heading in the right direction basketball-wise. Then came the aftermath. First, Cuonzo Martin flees Tennessee and then Frank Haith bolts from Missouri. Neither the Cal job, which Martin took, nor the Tulsa job where Haith landed appears to be a better job than what the two coaches had. But there are two common factors in both cases. 1. Neither coach was popular with the fan base and the fan bases of both had no trouble letting them know it. At Tennessee, 30,000 people signed a petition to get Martin out and hire Pearl just before he made the run in the NCAA tournament. So you could hardly blame him for getting the heck out of there. Haith was a surprising choice when Missouri took him away from Miami and the fans there never really warmed up to him. Attendance was down this year (the lowest in five years) and the NCAA issues that followed Haith to Mizzou didn't help. 2. Both coaches knew that next season was not going to be a good one. The Vols lost 74 percent of their scoring and 67 percent of their rebounding, not to mention 138 starts from the Sweet 16 team. Missouri had its two best players declare early for the draft. In other words, both coaches knew that getting fired was a distinct possibility after next season.

13. Florida's baseball team had another outstanding week punctuated by the weekend sweep of Georgia. The biggest thing I see on this team is that the pitchers are making big pitches to get out of crooked-number innings. That and the fact these Gators are doing the little things to win games. Florida ranks in the top 30 nationally in fielding, sacrifice flies, sacrifice bunts and walks allowed per nine innings. That's how you find yourself tied for the SEC lead 18 games into the conference season.

14. Meanwhile, over at softball, the Gators had a huge weekend outscoring Texas A&M 30-5 on the road. That's nine straight for the women after a four-game losing streak. And the Sunday win was No. 600 for Tim Walton. This year he has moved past Andy Brandi into second place at Florida with 477 wins as a Gator coach. Mary Wise has the most as a Gator coach with 714. Brandi is third and Billy Donovan fourth. Florida's spring coaches combined for an incredible Saturday for the Gator Nation. Gymnastics won the national title, lacrosse won the conference crown, baseball swept Georgia in a doubleheader, softball crushed A&M and men's tennis won to reach the SEC final.

15. Yes, I did watch a little bit of the spring games for Auburn and Alabama. The knee-jerk reaction would be to say that Auburn's offense looks as impressive as it did late last season, but you have to look at the defense it was playing against. And it would be easy to wonder if Alabama is going to struggle on offense after watching that mess, but its likely starting quarterback Jacob Coker wasn't playing. Or you could say they were just spring games and don't mean anything. And then you'd be right. It is going to be an interesting season in the SEC. But let's try to enjoy the rest of spring and most of summer before we get too carried away. Or not.

16. I watch zero NBA games during the season. Let me take that back. If I'm in a bar and a game is on and there is a former Gator playing, I'll watch a little. But regular-season NBA games don't do much for The Back Nine. On the other hand, playoff hoops is must-see TV. I can't believe how much I watched Saturday and Sunday. It was amazing to see so many visiting teams win. I thought homecourt was supposed to be an advantage. And, by the way, nice effort Pacers. You do know the playoffs have started, right?

17. The Tweet of the Week came early last week after the NCAA changed its ridiculous rule about supplying food to student-athletes and decided to allow unlimited meals and snacks. And it comes from the Round Mound of Touchdowns, former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen — “I'll tell u what the NCAA really lucked out that I don't have any eligibility left.”

18. So we're going to Easter dinner and as usual I hook up my iPhone to the radio to play some music and this comes out of the back seat — “Dad, nobody really likes your music.” Dang, that hurt. But I press on. Try these downloads — “California” by Rogue Wave, “White Daisy Passing” by Rocky Votolato and for an old-school song “Love Potion No. 9” by The Searchers.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at

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