GYMNASTICS: #5 Gators Fall To #1 Georgia

It was number one-ranked Georgia against fifth-ranked Florida in the top matchup of the weekend in college gymnastics at the O'Connell Center Friday night, a chance for Coach Rhonda Faehn's young Gators to spring an eye-opening upset against the defending NCAA champions. Florida had home advantage and a huge crowd of 8,338 in its favor but that wasn't enough as the Bulldogs took a methodical 197.025-196.600 win.

It was a good news/bad news kind of night for the Gators. The good news is that they scored a season high 196.600. The bad news is that the scores could have been so much higher if not for a number of uncharacteristic mistakes.

The mistakes, however, were due in part to Faehn's insistence on putting the difficulty in the routines early in the season and allowing her team to work through them so there will be more consistency at the end of the year. Most teams start the season with easier routines and try to gradually increase the rate of difficulty.

Faehn has pushed her team (4-2, 0-2 SEC) with the tougher routines early in the season and she thinks that is a good reason why the Gators are much further along this season than last even though the won-lost record may not show the progress.

"I think there's a tremendous difference and the biggest thing is that we are throwing so much more difficulty into every routine that we're doing," she said. "We knew going into the season that with that you take the risk of making mistakes. We have a different game plan this year and we know that's going to pay off for us in the long run. It's going to pay off for us at SEC's, regionals and nationals."

Where the Gators were hurt most was Friday night was on their floor routines. Tracey Rai, Savannah Evans, Nicola Willis and Tiffany Murry all lost .10 of a point for stepping out of bounds. While those deductions weren't enough to change the outcome in the meet, it would have made it much closer and certainly it would have put the pressure squarely on Georgia's shoulders.

The mistakes were indicative of a night when the Gators had countered their good moments with the kind of mistakes that can and will be corrected.

"It's the fourth meet of the year and we had to count some mistakes on floor which we haven't had to do so far this year but the degree of difficulty was there, the tumbling was there, the routines were there and it was obvious we could have won this meet which is promising to the athletes that we're doing the right thing," said Faehn. "We have to get more consistent so that those mistakes are happening now instead of when it's going to really count later on in the season."

Florida got off to a rough beginning on vault when All-American Savannah Evans, going second in the first rotation, couldn't get a hand down, causing her to fall on her landing.

"What hurts you is when you're competing and your second gymnast up falls," said Faehn. "Your first gymnast up starts the momentum. You're getting a great set and the momentum and then all of a sudden that shoots that right down. The third girl you're all of a sudden starting from scratch again. Your scores actually accumulate. They get higher if you keep hitting and hitting and hitting so it's really a disadvantage."

While Florida was trying to regain its momentum on the first rotation, Georgia was off to a very strong start on the bars, building from a 9.800 to a finishing 9.95 by freshman Courtney Kupets. Georgia had a 49.425-49.225 lead after the first rotation and never trailed.

Georgia increased its lead on the second rotation despite a 9.95 on the bars by the Gators' Samantha Lutz and a 9.90 by freshman Corey Hartung. Hartung and Lutz both scored 9.90 on the beam, the only rotation that the Gators won (49.275). Florida showed some resilience on the beam because Willis, second in the rotation, fell on her landing for a 9.30.

In Florida's final rotation, the floor exercise, Hartung scored a 9.90. The out of bounds deductions cost Willis a 9.850 and Murry a 9.90.

What had to be encouraging about the meet was the fact the Gators scored their highest total of the young season with all the mistakes.

"I feel like we when we start hitting and every gymnast is doing exactly as she should and we have the lineups where we really feel they should be that we can challenge for sure for the SEC and national title which is very promising," said Faehn.

It was also encouraging to see the continued progress of Hartung, the super freshman, and the return to health and form by Lutz. Hartung's 9.90 on bars, beam and floor were the result of strong, powerful routines that left the huge crowd dazzled. Lutz, who was limited the last half of the 2005 season by a back injury, had a 9.90 and 9.875 on bars and beam, a clear indication that she's healthy again.

Faehn says Hartung has almost unlimited potential.

"She has the wonderful basics and the artistic side of gymnastics that you don't see much anymore," said Faehn. "It's really refreshing for the judges seeing that brought back into competition. She has so many more skills that she's capable of doing.

"She really has a tremendous amount of potential, particularly being a freshman. She has a bright future ahead of her."

Lutz hurt her back last season and went from competing in three events per meet to one by the time the Gators got to nationals. Faehn is bringing her along slowly this year but it's likely that Lutz will be added to the floor rotation within a week or two. Lutz performed an exhibition routine on floor against Georgia.

"We're cutting her loose," said Faehn. "You'll see her in our floor lineup. She's an amazing competitor. We wanted to get her out there one more time. We put her on exhibition on floor against Alabama and she did a great job but we wanted to give her one more shot to make her comfortable without the pressure of her score counting for the team just yet.

"Her back is good. She hasn't had any problems which is nice but we still have to be careful with her because she has had those issues."

Florida will be at Auburn next week. The Gators will return home to the O'Connell Center on February 10 to host a meet that includes Arkansas, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Fightin Gators Top Stories