GYMNASTICS: Gators impressive in Super Six

Dumbing down the routines was not an option Friday night for Florida gymnastics coach Rhonda Faehn. If she had chosen to simplify things, the Gators would have easily walked away with the team title at the Super Six Challenge at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, but she has her eye on the nationals in April, not on winning big in January.

"We wanted to win the meet but we also wanted to give all our athletes the skills that we're looking to be able to use at the end of the year," said Faehn after the Gators finished second out of six nationally ranked teams in the opening gymnastics meet of the season before 8,119 fans, the second largest gymnastics crowd in school history.

Georgia's nationally second ranked Bulldogs got the win with a score of 194.850, edging out the Gators (ranked sixth nationally) who came in at 194.450. Fourth ranked Alabama finished third at 193.875, while Arizona (number 13) finished fourth with a 193.425 score, number 19 Penn State finished fifth (193.00) and number 17 Iowa finished sixth at 190.725.

Alabama All-American Ashley Miles was the meet's dominant gymnast, capturing the vault for the third straight year at the Super Six Challenge, and winning the all-around title with a 39.35 to edge out Florida sophomore Breanne King, who won the balance beam on her way to a 39.20 score. Gator sophomore Samantha Lutz won the parallel bars for her first collegiate title ever.

Florida's strategy was to win the meet, but not at the expense of the kind of tough meet experience that Faehn is trying to instill in her still very young team. The Gators are a sophomore dominated team that broke in three freshmenon this night. She used freshmen Tiffany Murry, Tracey Rai and Ashley Reed on the floor routines and used Murry and Reed on the parallel bars.

Florida was on pace to catch and surpass Georgia on the last rotation of the night, but Murry and Rai both fell on dismount on the parallel bars. They finished with identical 9.375 scores and that was enough to give Georgia the team title.

Reed's routine on the bars was sensational until the dismount. Faehn said one of the judges said that her star freshman was "on her way to a perfect 10 until she fell on the dismount. We could have watered her dismount down to an easier one, but that's a dismount she does best and she can do, and that's what we want at nationals."

Even though it's the first match of the year, Faehn is already gearing up her team for the nationals. She knows that the talent is there to win it all. Experience is the only ingredient that is lacking at this point.

"The team we have this year is extremely talented and I would say the strongest team that Florida's ever had," said the third-year Gator coach, who went on to say that Florida "can easily win and challenge for the national title this year."

Florida showed real strength on the vault, where King, Murry, Evans and Reed all scored 9.80, and on the floor exercise, where Murry and Evans finished in a tie for fourth at 9.875. On the bars, Lutz won with a 9.875 while teammates Orley Szmuch and Sherrie Owens both came in at 9.825 and King finished at 9.80.

While Faehn's strategy was to put in the tough routines from the very beginning, Georgia went with a simpler strategy that got the win although Coach Suzanne Yoculan said it wasn't just about getting the win. Like Florida, she sent a very young team out on the floor.

"We didn't deliberately plan to do that [simplify routines] to win the competition," she said. "It was just our strategy that was necessary with so many freshmen in our lineup to have a foundation that we could build on throughout our season.

"I want to come out there gangbusters in the first meet and do the most difficulty in the country and show everyone we can hit it, but we don't have that kind of team that can do that this year."

Yoculan, who has coached Georgia to five NCAA championships, wouldn't apologize for taking the easier route, and she complimented Faehn for putting in difficult routines this early in the season.

"They [Florida] just took on routines with greater difficulty than us and as you increase your difficulty you increase your margin for error," she said. "We intentionally did routines that we could hit. That's why we won the meet because everyone made more mistakes than we did. "This is one of the best teams I've ever seen Florida with. There's a tremendous amount of experience there."

Faehn knows the capability of this team so she's pushing them every opportunity she has. She knows that the mistakes of today will get corrected to become the polished routines that score big on the national stage.

"In the past, there have been times when we definitely simplified things, but that's when I didn't think we had as much depth or as much strength," she said. "I feel we have so much depth and strength on our team that we need to push to be at that level because at the nationals, at the Super Six on the final day there, the team that is going to win the championship is going to be the team that's doing the skills we are doing right now. It's not going to be the one that's doing the simpler routines. That's fine at the beginning of the year for the scores and judges, but we all know that on the last day at nationals, when it counts, you have to have a tremendous amount of skills."

Florida's next match is next Friday at LSU. The next home match is against Nebraska, January 21.

Fightin Gators Top Stories