GYMNASTICS: Gators Host NCAA SE Regionals

It is a unique opportunity for Coach Rhonda Faehn and her Florida gymnasts Saturday evening when the Gators host the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center (6 p.m. start). The seventh ranked Gators. Not only do the Gators have the chance to perform in front of what should be a very large, supportive home crowd, but they'll have an opportunity to go head to head against a Georgia team that they have already beaten twice this year.

Georgia is one of six teams competing in this regional but the GymDogs are ranked fifth nationally on the heels of a Southeastern Conference championship two weeks ago, a meet that the Gators finished a disappointing fourth. In addition to Florida and Georgia, the field for the regional will include Denver (ranked 17th), North Carolina (number 25), West Virginia (number 26) and North Carolina State (number 28).

Florida's disappointing finish in the SEC meet was not the result of major errors by Faehn's team, but instead it was an accumulation of small bobbles and missteps that all added up. In gymnastics, where meets are decided by hundredths of points, small errors add up quickly. What made the meet particularly disappointing for Faehn was that the Gators had a team total of 196.15. The week before, Florida had scored 197.20. The same score at the SEC meet would have put the Gators within .05 of Georgia's winning effort.

"When we look back on it there wasn't one major mistake at the SECs but there were small mistakes throughout the meet," said Faehn, noting that teams can't expect to win with numerous mistakes at the SEC meet, which she says is "more difficult than the Super Six or NCAAs."

In reviewing what went on at the SEC meet, Faehn says the Gators lost their focus. Instead of staying focused as they had all year on staying within the moment, she believes the Gators might have done a little too much scoreboard watching.

"I do believe that it came from that lack of focus on thinking about what is going on right in front of you at that moment," she said. "[Rather than focus on that] one skill at a time, that one routine at a time and instead they kind of got lost and they were thinking more on the lines of the result, the score, the finish, that kind of stuff."

So the focus in the two weeks since the SEC meet has been to get back to concentrating only on the things that they can control, and that means extra work on the mental focus and on blocking out everything except what has to be done right now.

"Obviously we feel we have something to prove coming off the SECs because we know we're capable of so much more than that," said Faehn. "However, in the same sense it's really important that we just got back into the gym and cleaned up the areas of the mistakes. The purpose of this competition is to go out and be consistent and hit extremely clean routines to prepare us for the NCAAs."

The Gators enter the regional competition ranked seventh nationally with a per meet average of 196.685. All-around performers Ashley Reed (freshman) and Breanne King (sophomore) rank 16th and 24th nationally. Reed has a per meet average of 39.340 while King is at 39.240.

Florida is ranked third nationally in the vault (team average 49.340) and freshman Tiffany Murry is tied for 17th in the national rankings at 9.895. Florida ranks fourth nationally on balance beam (King ranked 16th at 9.880) and the Gators are ranked ninth (49.215) as a team in the floor exercise.

The Gators defeated Georgia in the season opening Super Six competition which was held at the O-Dome and Florida again defeated Georgia a month later in Athens. The win in Athens (195.725-195.60) was the first win for the Gators in a dual meet in Georgia's home arena since 1983.

While Georgia will again be the opponent that presents the greatest challenge for the Gators, Faehn insists that Florida will not be thinking about the opponents, but instead concentrating on the things they have to do to do their best.

"We're looking at it like every other meet we've done this year," she said. "We'll take it one thing at a time, one routine at a time all the way through until we finish out with our last routine on bars."

GYMNASTICS NOTES: Denver is coached by former Gator Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart (1989-92) … Gator senior Orley Szmuch will participate in vault, beam and bars. Szmuch's injured ankle still isn't ready for the rigors of the floor routine … The Gators expect senior Erinn Dooley to participate in the vault and beam … North Carolina's Courtney Bumpers tied with Alabama's Ashley Miles for the NCAA floor exercise title in 2004.

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