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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

No. 1 UF loses meet with No. 2 Georgia by smallest of margins

Sometimes a 9.875 just isn't good enough.

That's what the No. 1 UF gymnastics team learned in a 196.85-196.825 loss to No. 2 Georgia at home Friday night.

UF sophomore Amanda Castillo was the last gymnast to perform in the meet and needed a 9.9 on her floor routine to tie the score, but she tallied a 9.875 and the Gators fell to the Bulldogs by .025 - the smallest possible margin of victory.

After starting the meet by matching the second-highest vault score in school history, UF struggled with two falls on the uneven bars by seniors Nicola Willis and Ashley Reed.

The two falls resulted in the Gators' first counted fall since Jan. 20, 2006, and it was the team's first regular-season loss since Jan. 27, 2006, also against the Bulldogs.

After the poor showing in the uneven bars, UF tried to regroup and finish out the meet with a strong performance.

"We had some huge mistakes on the bars, so we knew we really couldn't afford to [slip up]," Castillo said. "We had to get back on our game and hold our chins up high and do the best we could."

Heading into the final portion of the meet, the Gators were down by .65 and would need some help from the Bulldogs. They got it when Georgia's Grace Taylor and Courtney McCool both fell off the beam and opened the door for UF.

The second fall elicited an eruption of cheers from the record crowd of 10,855 in the O'Connell Center, sending the Gators' coaches into a frenzy, as cheering a fallen gymnast is typically seen to be in bad taste.

The Gators got the fifth-best all-around performance in school history from junior co-captain Corey Hartung, who recorded a career-best score of 39.7.

Hartung excelled on the vault with a mark of 9.975, which was her personal best and second-best in UF history - a performance Gators coach Rhonda Faehn called long-awaited and well-deserved.

Georgia improved its all-time record against UF to 85-31-1 and remained undefeated against No. 1 teams.

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Losing to their rivals was disappointing, but the Gators know it is still early in the season, and they will get to face the Bulldogs again when more is on the line.

"Last year it was nice to keep saying we were undefeated, but NCAAs is what really matters and really counts in the end," Hartung said. "It is a good learning situation tonight. We will pick up our confidence and know what we did wrong so we can beat them later."

Despite the loss, UF kept the No. 1 ranking because its average total score is still the highest in the nation. GymInfo's ranking system bases its first five polls on the total season average of squads.

No matter what ranking the Gators hold, Faehn sees the loss for what it is but wants the team to learn from its mistakes and continue to prepare for the NCAA Championships.

"I think it will be really good for our athletes, because it's going to continue to fuel them and make them hungry."

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