GYMNASTICS: Senior Night For 6th-Ranked Gators

After a week off following two tough road losses against nationally ranked gymnastics powers Utah and UCLA, Coach Rhonda Faehn has her sixth-ranked Gator gymnasts ready to take to the floor again in their last meet before the Southeastern Conference Championships in Duluth, Georgia.

The Gators are 12-4 tonight as they host Pittsburgh and Yale in a tri-meet at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center (7 p.m.) that also signals the final home regular season meet ever for seniors Orley Szmuch, Erinn Dooley and Kimberly Schatz.

Senior night will be special for Faehn because of the contributions her seniors have made to the program.

"It's so difficult to say good-bye to seniors who have done so much for the program for so many years," said Faehn. "They've been almost mothers to the team the way they are. They each have different roles which is great.

"It's going to be hard to say good-bye to them and that's why we'll do it at the end instead of the beginning. But, they know as well as we do that it's just a ceremony and there are still four meets ahead of us with SEC, regionals, nationals and Super Six."

Szmuch is still trying to recover from a badly sprained ankle against Auburn while Dooley has been trying all season to come back from a stress fracture in her foot. Dooley may be back in the floor lineup Friday while Szmuch may be back on the vault Friday evening but likely will be held out one more week on the floor exercises to save her for the SEC meet.

While Pitt and Yale are non-ranked teams that really don't pose a threat for the Gators, Faehn is using it as a stepping stone to gear her team up for the SEC meet one week later.

"Definitely we're utilizing this meet for preparation for the SEC," said Faehn. "It's a last chance for us to really nail down selection on floor, who's going to make that lineup. It's going to be the best combination of doing the difficult skills but also doing the cleanest routines. We have to have both to challenge for the title.

"We're going to use the meet to change up just a few things that are minor, but utilize the exhibition routines for some athletes who have been in the lineup to try some different tumbling. We really need to use this as our step to give us a last chance to find out what we're going to do heading into the SEC."

The meet is also to help prepare the team for potential depth problems at the SEC, regional and national meets. The Gators had to face adversity at the SEC last year with an injury to Kristen Stucky. That allowed Samantha Lutz to step in at the last second on the beam where she posted a 9.90, a collegiate best.

"Last year, unfortunately Stucky got injured in the warm-ups so Sam (Lutz) and to step in on the beam and Sherie (Owens) had to step up on the bars with no warmup," said Faehn. "That was huge, so we're also utilizing this (tonight's meet) to find out who can step in and help us on a moment's notice."

While the losses to Utah and UCLA were disappointing, they helped the Gators get focused on the future and what they have to do in the big meets.

"It put us under the pressure but let us see exactly what those two teams are doing gymnastically and where we stand with that," said Faehn. "We know what type of team we are and how much talent we have and what we are capable of doing.

"It was so important for us to do that road trip to not only meet two teams ranked above us but to put ourselves in that situation mentally and physically competing under difficult circumstances in their arenas with their crowds which is helping prepare us for SEC and NCAA."

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