Fifth-Ranked Gator Gymnasts Win Quad-Meet

The gymnastics talent from the top to the bottom of the roster is the best it's ever been at the University of Florida this season. The potential for a championship isn't lost on Coach Rhonda Faehn whose greatest task is gauging the pace of the season to keep her team from peaking too early. The goal is to start peaking at the Southeastern Conference and NCAA championships which means steady, weekly progress rather than quantum leaps.

Measurable progress was made Friday night when the fifth-ranked Gators put up their best score of the season (196.950) to win a quadrangular meet with 21st-ranked Arkansas (194.025), 22nd-ranked North Carolina (193.125) and West Virginia (194.200) at the O'Connell Center before a crowd of 3,540. In improving to 8-2 overall, 2-2 in the SEC, the Gators turned in season-high scores on the vault (49.275), balance beam (49.325) and floor exercises (49.325).

"We're trying to pace things so we peak at the right time," said Faehn, who added that she wants her team to start hitting their stride late in the season. With the SEC meet in late March and the NCAA regionals and championships in April, she has another six weeks to build the Gators up to championship form.

So the focus at each of the meets leading up to the championship events at the end of the season will be making small improvements with each meet. A couple of weeks ago against top ranked and defending NCAA champion Georgia, the Gators were plagued by four out of bounds deductions in the floor exercises that cost them a chance to score a huge early-season upset. Georgia edged the Gators 197.025-196.600.

Friday night, that was one area where the Gators showed tremendous improvement as all six competitors in the floor exercise avoided those tenth of a point deductions with crisp, clean routines.

Each meet, Faehn has tried to focus the Gators on one area of improvement. Friday night, the number one goal was to eliminate the out of bounds deductions that are more a mental mistake than physical.

"We try to have a different focus each night," said Faehn. "Tonight we wanted to clean up our landings and not make mental mistakes like stepping out of bounds."

The improvement in just those two small but important areas was noticeable in the final score.

"I think that's what we're aiming for," said junior Samantha Lutz, who had a season best 9.875 on the balance beam to help the Gators to a sweep of the top three spots in that competition. "We're trying to take small steps up the ladder to get to the top."

Lutz tied with Breanne King at 9.875 on the beam while freshman Corey Hartung turned in a 9.90 to win.

Hartung capped an outstanding week by winning the all-around title with a 39.450 score. Earlier in the week she was named the SEC's Gymnast of the Week for her performance last week at Auburn. It was her third all-around title of the season and her best all-around score. Hartung won the balance beam with a 9.90 and finished second in the floor exercise with another 9.90.

Hartung was pleased to win and help her team but still not completely satisfied with her overall performance.

"I saw improvement in all four events but there are still little improvements that can be made," she said.

Sophomore Tiffany Murry won the vault with a 9.925 and she tied two-time defending NCAA champ Courtney Bumpers of North Carolina with a 9.925 for the win in the floor exercise. The win was the fifth of the season in the vault for Murry whose floor exercise score tied her collegiate best.

King competed in just her third all-around of the season, finishing with a 39.300 for second place.

Faehn held Ashley Reed out of the floor exercises and kept Savannah Evans on the sideline with a slightly strained muscle out completely but the Gators didn't miss a beat. Florida's superior depth allowed Faehn to shuffle the lineup and produce a winning effort on three of the four events.

That she can shuffle the lineup without losing a step is a good sign for Faehn.

"I like the team dynamics so far," she said, adding that the "team chemistry is the best since I've been here."

Florida travels to number 18 Kentucky next Friday for a Southeastern Conference dual meet.

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