GYMNASTICS: Gators Tune Up By Trouncing Kentucky

By her own admission, Coach Rhonda Faehn's Florida Gators were on autopilot Friday night when they hosted Kentucky for a Southeastern Conference gymnastics meet at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. The outcome of the meet was never in doubt and basically decided by the time the first rotation was over. Winning wasn't ever the question, but that doesn't mean there wasn't much to accomplish.

The sixth-ranked Gators trounced Kentucky 196.925-193.150 before a crowd of 2,429, winning their fifth straight dual meet and improving their overall record to 10-2 this season, 5-1 in the SEC. For Kentucky it was a sixth straight loss in the SEC, dropping the Wildcats to 4-6 for the season.

"We had so many objectives in mind and goals that we wanted to achieve," said Faehn. "We put some changes in the lineup, like putting Orley (Szmuch) back in on bars, changing the lineup on floor and adding different skills by making Bre's (Breanne King) routine more difficult and we made Sam's last tumbling pass more difficult, but it was wonderful to see. That was our purpose for this meet."

Kentucky was the third consecutive low pressure meet for the Gators who outclassed Auburn and Arkansas the two previous weeks. Now the pressure intensifies to a whole new level in the week to come. Friday night the Gators will be at Utah in a meet that also includes Stanford and California. Utah is presently ranked fourth in the nation after spending part of the season ranked first. Stanford finished third in last year's NCAA meet and Cal is considered a rising power in the tough Pac-10 Conference. The Gators will get a day of rest on Saturday and then face UCLA in Los Angeles Sunday. UCLA is presently ranked second in the nation.

While she doesn't allow her team to ever worry about who they are competing against or follow the scoring during a meet, she recognized that her team was using this meet with Kentucky as a tuneup for next weekend.

Florida dominated every rotation, taking first second and third in the vault, bars and balance beam. Kentucky's Michelle Gates got a tie for third with two Gators for third on the floor exercise. Such a performance convinced Faehn that Friday's mission was accomplished.

"They're ready," she pronounced. "They knew tonight was prepping us for next week."

Freshman Ashley Reed turned in another outstanding performance for the Gators, winning the all-around with a score of 39.425 to nudge King for the title. Reed won the vault with a 9.925, tied for third (9.800) on the parallel bars, and took second in the floor exercise with a 9.90.

Though just in her first year of competition, Reed isn't really surprised that she's doing well, although she says "Anyone on our team could be doing the same thing. We have so many good people that whoever gets to go on the events can do it."

Faehn likes the way her freshman is maturing and says that Reed's gym club coach correctly predicted that she would be an instant star.

"When we recruited her, her coach, Jeff Woods, said she is going to be a star for us and he definitely knows what he's talking about," said Faehn, "and she has so much potential left in her."

King won her fourth balance beam title of the season with a 9.90. She also tied for third in the parallel bars (9.80) and took third in the vault (9.850).

King is excited about the two meets next week. She likes the way the team is coming together at the right time.

"Our confidence is just building," she said. "We're going to work hard in the gym this week, focus on ourselves and go out to do what we can do. We're really excited about this chance to show what we can do."

Szmuch took a hard fall on a balance beam routine against Auburn a couple of weeks ago, spraining an ankle in the process that had surgery last year and took seven months to rehab. She sat out the meet last week against Arkansas but returned to the team in a limited capacity Friday night. She competed in one event, the parallel bars, and scored a winning 9.90.

"I'm definitely happy just to be out there on the floor again," said Szmuch, one of the few seniors on this freshman and sophomore dominated team. "Just to be able to provide a score for my team was great. It was so tough to sit back and watch at Arkansas."

Faehn likes the leadership and toughness that Szmuch brings to the team. Even though her ankle was bad last week, she was doing everything she could to get back to the lineup quickly, leading by example in her rehab and practices sessions.

"After two weeks away not only did she get back in but she did a great job on bars," said Faehn. "I was very proud of her for that. She's training on the beam again, too. We'll see her back there pretty quickly. She adds so much to our team."

Faehn also got an eye-opening performance from another freshman, Tiffany Murry. Competing on the floor exercise for the first time since January, Murry turned in a brilliant 9.925 to win the event. Murry also scored a solid 9.825 on the vault and took second in the parallel bars with a 9.850.

"That [floor exercise] was unbelievable," said Faehn of her explosive freshman. "That was what we recruited her for and knew that is what she's capable of doing."

Now the attention turns solely to the two meets ahead. Faehn is using them as a checkpoint to see how far her team has progressed during the season and how much work needs to be done before the SEC, regional and nationals take place on consecutive weekends in April.

"The next two meets are going to give us a pretty good idea of where we are and what we have to do to be where we want to be," said Faehn. "It's going to be an exciting week for us."

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