GYMNASTICS: Reed leads Gators to rout over Auburn

When senior Orley Szmuch sprained her ankle as she began her dismount while leading off the Florida rotation on the balance beam Friday night, no one would have blamed freshman Ashley Reed if she had gotten a huge lump in her throat. Last week against Georgia in Athens, Reed was one of two Gators who fell on the beam and the two miscues nearly cost the Gators the match.

Instead of panicking, however, Reed didn't even know that Szmuch had taken the bad fall. Unfazed by the accident, she stepped up on the beam and turned in a 9.850 that earned her the beam title, leading the sixth-ranked Gators to a 196.525-194.000 victory over fifteenth-ranked Auburn before a crowd of 2,746 at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

"I didn't even see her fall because I wasn't even paying attention," said Reed, who won her first all-around title with a 39.375. "I was just so focused. After falling last week I just wanted to come back and hit my routine best as I could because I really felt like I let the team down. Going out there and sticking the landing was probably the best feeling for me."

When Reed nailed her landing after the Szmuch injury, a sigh of relief went up among the crowd, but while the Gators were happy for Reed, they expected to do well. Samantha Lutz followed with a 9.80 and Breanne King came in at 9.75. Chantelle Tousek, coming back from an injury that has limited her the first few weeks of the season, had a 9.80, outstanding since it was her first non-exhibition beam routine of the year. Samantha Evans finished things out with a beam-title winning performance of 9.875. A rotation that started out so tragically finished so strong as the Gators won the beam competition 49.000-48.250.

"Ashley went up and hit a very nice beam routine and then the momentum just kept going," said King. "I think after you see that you get a little bit shaky so everyone just did the best they could and they went up, hit their routines and that's just what we needed."

Sophomore co-captain Lutz said that Reed's ability to tune out the injury is exactly what the team is supposed to do: focus on what each individual has to do rather than dwell on any distractions such as falls, injuries or something in the crowd.

Samantha Lutz as she begins her floor routine

"That's the last thought [falling] that entered our minds," she said. "Regardless of what happens in front of us, we're all confident in our routines and we know we can get up there and hit no matter the situation. It's just a matter of getting up there and doing that."

Reed's performance is indicative of her maturing and coming to grips with the different atmosphere and the focus on team in college gymnastics.

"It's really starting to show that Ashley's starting to come into her own and getting more comfortable competing in college with the different atmosphere," said Faehn, whose team improved to 8-2 overall, 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference. "I really think her personality came out tonight and she really shined. She's really starting to really love what she's doing instead of just going out there and just competing."

Thanks to the steady comeback on the beam, the Gators entered the floor exercise with an almost insurmountable (147.450-145.750) lead and that meant the Gators could cut loose and have fun. The Gators hit one solid routine after another with Evans closing out with a 9.875, good enough to tie Auburn's Rachel Tarantino for the floor title.

Chantelle Tousek during floor routine

Having fun, said King, was the Gators "main focus going in, focusing in our routines and having fun. That's what gymnastics is all about."

Florida finished the night with a couple of floor exhibitions including a standout routine from freshman Nicola Willis, who competed in the Athens Olympics for the United Kingdom. Willis has been slowed by tendonitis and her effort was a clear sign that she will be joining the rotation at sometime in the near future.

Faehn made it clear that the Gators will be using the two upcoming meets with Arkansas (at Fayetteville next Friday) and Kentucky (home, February 25) to get some needed work for some of her younger gymnasts. The Szmuch injury was indicative of the need to have people ready to step in on a moment's notice.

Coach Rhonda Faehn (foreground) watches Katie Rue
while Coach Randy Lane (right) positions for safety.

"We were adamant about exhibitioning so many people so we can put in people in case something like that [injury] happens," said Faehn. "That's definitely the plan when we are going to Arkansas and against Kentucky. We want to be able to use different athletes in the lineups and see how they're going to score so we can rest some of our athletes who have been doing a tremendous amount so far this year because after that we have a heavy load going out to Utah with Stanford there, and then on to UCLA."

Katie Rue, King and Szmuch had a three-way tie for the vault title with 9.875 while Szmuch and Reed shared the parallel bars title.

Following Reed in the all-around was King with a second place score of 39.275. Tarantino of Auburn finished third at 39.20.

The win was satisfying for the Gators in many ways. They earned a Sunday off ("the first one they've had this year," said Faehn) but more importantly, they got to relax after the beam routines to really show off their skills to a very appreciative crowd.

"We wanted to show our heart out there tonight and I think we did that," said Lutz.

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