GYMNASTICS: Pete Went Floppy, Savannah Goes Silly

The late great Pete Maravich had his floppy socks that he had to wear every time he played basketball. Pistol Pete called them his "lucky socks" and he never played without them.

When Savannah Evans takes the floor to warm up for the Florida Gators before a gymnastics meet, she's got socks, too. Hers aren't the floppy variety that Pistol Pete wore, and while Pete kept wearing the same pair over and over again, Savannah's routine is one meet, one pair of socks.

"They're my silly socks," says the sophomore All-American from Destin. "I wear a different pair of silly socks for every meet. I wear frog socks or Superman socks, something new every meet and something that when someone else sees them, it just lightens up the atmosphere."

Keeping a light atmosphere is important in the high tension world of college gymnastics where the pressure is always on the athletes. Evans keeps her teammates smiling both with her pre-meet silly socks and the boost she gives them when she performs. She's a key component in the University of Florida's number four national ranked team which hosts Kentucky on Friday for the final Southeastern Conference meet of the season at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center at 7 p.m.

Florida is 9-2 overall, 4-1 in the SEC. The Gators have won five consecutive dual meets, and while Kentucky isn't as highly ranked as Alabama, Georgia or LSU, the Wildcats won't be taken lightly.

"We're maintaining our focus as a team," said Evans. "Just because this isn't a meet against a highly ranked team doesn't mean we won't be trying to hit 24 of 24 routines. We almost did that last week but this week we'll be looking to improve --- no wobbles, everyone sticks their landings, things like that."

Evans is coming off a week when she was slowed by the flu. That kept her off the uneven bars last week, but she will be back at full strength against Kentucky. She says that her focus and the focus of the team is to keep improving weekly but at the same time, avoid peaking too early. It's more than a month until the Southeastern Conference championship meet which will be followed by the NCAA Regionals and the NCAA Finals.

"At the beginning of the season, the team as a whole had mistakes," she said. "You expect that then. You have bugs in your routines and you work them out. That's pretty much normal and what you expect. I think things are going perfectly now. We're getting better every week and the way we're improving is perfect right now. I think we're going to be peaking perfectly when we get to SEC and nationals."

Evans was in ballet at age six when she saw her older sister compete in gymnastics. She knew immediately that she had to exchange the tutu and tights for a gymnastics leotard.

"I saw her [my sister] and I said 'Mom you have to put me in that because it's so much cooler than ballet!' My first day in gymnastics, I knew I loved it and I got hooked. It's my sport."

She rose through the ranks in club gymnastics to level 10 which set the stage for her to come to Florida where she competes for Coach Rhonda Faehn's highly ranked program.

"I was the only level 10 at my gym so coming here was definitely a change," she said. "At club level it's almost all individual, but here, it's all about the team. I love it!"

She made All-America as a freshman at Florida and now she's a leading component on a team that has national championship designs. While she is a star and a key contributor, she thinks of herself as just one of the girls, just one part of the team.

"The great thing about being on this team is that everyone has a role and every role is important to the success of the team," she said. "Even if you aren't competing in the lineup that night, doing little things like moving a mat or cheering on a teammate is important. All of the things that we do together make us a team and the team is most important.

"You compete as an individual but the team comes first. If you fall or make a mistake, you have to get over it. You help out your team by cheering them on and getting in the next person's face to say, 'you have to make up for my mistake and I believe in you!' That's what I love about this team. That's the kind of thing we all do."

The Kentucky meet is not the kind of high pressure meet that the Gators will be seeing in the next couple of weeks. Next weekend the Gators will be in Utah for a meet with the top ranked Utes, Stanford (third in last year's NCAA's) and California. Two nights later in Los Angeles, the Gators will go head to head with UCLA in a dual meet. UCLA has battled with Utah for the top ranking all season.

"The pressure meets like these will help help us prepare for bigger meets like the SEC, regional and nationals," she said. "I'm really getting excited, but we have to take care of first things first. We have to go against Kentucky and that's where we're focused right now."


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