Evans lifts Gator Gymnastics to win over Alabama

Savannah Evans had no idea what the score was and what was needed Friday night when the music began for her floor exercise routine. She only knew she had to do well. The scoring? She left that to Coach Rhonda Faehn.

"I just knew I had to go out there and do what I can do," said Evans, a sophomore from Destin. Doing what she could do earned a 9.95 which rallied the fifth-ranked Florida Gators to a 196.550-196.350 gymnastics victory over fourth-ranked Alabama before a crowd of 3,947 at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

When Evans took the floor, she was fully focused on hitting her routine as perfectly as possible. She had no idea that the meet was so close with very little room for error.

"We really don't concentrate on the scores too much," said Evans. "We just concentrate on ourselves and our routines."

That's the way that Faehn likes it. For her team to perform at the level she wants, they have to keep focus on what they have to do each routine instead of watching the scoreboard. She's the one who knows just how much the Gators are ahead or behind and Friday night she said, "I was adding the scores up in my head. I knew exactly what we needed."

Evans got what the Gators needed but she wasn't the only one to come through when the pressure was at its peak. For the second straight week the Gators (6-2 overall, 1-1 SEC) had to battle back on the balance beam then pull out a win on the floor exercises over a nationally ranked opponent. The margin for error against Alabama was less than last week against Nebraska when Samantha Lutz's floor routine basically won that meet in come from behind style.

Lutz again came though when the pressure was on, hitting a 9.90 which was followed up by a 9.925 by Breanne King. Freshman Tiffany Murry was in a position to earn the win on her routine but she had to grab the floor to maintain her balance at the end of her final tumbling run, putting the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Evans, who didn't even blink.

Florida had to come from behind because the Gators had a shaky night on the uneven bars. Ashley Reed's 9.80 was the best Florida could do on that apparatus, dominated by Alabama which had a pair of 9.875s to go with All-American Terin Humphrey's 9.925. The Gators were down 49.125-48.700 after two rotations and they were only able to shave .225 off the lead after the third rotation.

Alabama's third rotation was the floor exercise which was dominated by All-American Ashley Miles, who followed Erin Rightley's 9.90 with a 9.95. While Florida more than held its own on the balance beam, the apparatus would prove to be the downfall for the Crimson Tide which had the beam on its last rotation.

Humphrey came through with a 9.925 beam routine, but her teammates couldn't offer much support. Even Miles, the all-around winner for the evening, couldn't help. She faltered twice on the beam, then nearly ate a yard of mat on her landing. Her 9.625 left Alabama short of points.

Florida's final rotation on the floor was an exercise in consistency. Katie Rue scored a 9.825 and Tracey Rai followed with a 9.775. Lutz scored her 9.9 and then King got her 9.925. If Murry hadn't faltered at the end of her tumbling run, her routine would have certain scored in the 9.9 range as well.

For all the strong performances, particularly at the end, however, Faehn was well aware, as was her team that this was far from the best performance that this team is capable of delivering.

"It's a wonderful feeling to beat Alabama for the second time this year, but what's an even better feeling is knowing that we did that and didn't perform nearly to our potential," said the Gator coach. "That makes us feel even better."

Lutz agreed with her coach.

"What's most exciting for us about this win is we still didn't perform all the way to our potential," she said. "To come out with this victory knowing that we are capable of much more than tonight speaks so much of the talent and the capability of this team."

Murry (9.95) and senior Orley Szmuch (9.925) finished the night 1-2 in the vault. Lutz finished second in the beam (9.85) and on floor exercises, Evans tied Miles for first and King finished third.

King finished second to Miles in all-around.

The Gators will be on the road next Friday night against sixth ranked Georgia in Athens, a place that hasn't been kind to Florida over the years. But this is a year that could be different. The Gators are ranked ahead of Georgia and capable of winning performances either home or on the road.

"We're really looking forward to it [traveling to Georgia]," said Faehn. "This year we're going into Georgia with a stronger team, a more aggressive team that's a bit more prepared than we were at this time last year.

"It's a difficult environment to compete, yet in the same sense a wonderful opportunity to see and to give our freshmen and everyone else the chance to perform under that pressure situation with 10,000 fans barking at them."

The Gators return home in two weeks to host Auburn.

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