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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

If it were up to Coach Rhonda Faehn, she would be at her UF gymnastics team's first meet against Illinois-Chicago on Friday night.

But not everyone on the team thinks she should rush back so soon after having a boy, Noah Nmile Bayon, on Tuesday.

"We told her not to worry about it, because we've prepared ourselves so much that we would rather her stay home, get rest and get some sleep," co-captain Corey Hartung said. "But that's her personality. She's a wonderful person and a wonderful coach."

It is still unknown whether Faehn will attend her squad's season opener, but the team knows it must concentrate on getting off to a strong start to the season.

Faehn said if she can't be there, it will be a great test for her team to see if it can stay focused on the task at hand.

After their season opener against the Flames, the Gators will compete in four straight meets against teams ranked in the top 25 of the GymInfo preseason coaches' poll.

Illinois-Chicago may not be ranked, but it is returning eight gymnasts from a team that won the Midwest Independent Conference a year ago, including MIC Athlete of the Year Annie Kachman.

"Illinois-Chicago is a great start to the season," Faehn said earlier this week. "This is a great preparation for Georgia."

UF will face the top-ranked Bulldogs next week.

The Gators last faced Illinois-Chicago in 2004 when UF won 197.225 to 192.675.

After months of practicing, the Gators are ready to compete and try out their new routines in an actual meet.

"We're all so excited to get the season started," Faehn said. "We're just anxious to get out there and get on our way."

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For all the lofty expectations that the Gators will face along with their preseason No. 2 ranking, even bigger things will be expected from Melanie Sinclair.

The co-captain will finally be performing at full health after being slowed down last year due to a preseason knee surgery.

"This year [Sinclair] is in tremendous form physically, she is doing all four events and doing them really, really well," Faehn said. "Look for her to be a top all-arounder for us and that top marquee athlete that we have been looking for, because she is now feeling healthy."

UF could get a boost from a new face as well. Redshirt sophomore Maranda Smith transferred from UCLA and will likely compete in vault, uneven bars, and floor events this year.

"Look for Maranda Smith, who's a newcomer just for this semester," Faehn said. "It's going to take her a little bit of time to get used to everything, but she could be in our lineup soon."

Although it's tough for Sinclair to not look ahead to the Georgia meet, she knows that she must start with Illinois-Chicago tonight at 7 in the O'Connell Center.

Sinclair said she just wants to start the season off right by hitting all of her routines, and she isn't worried about the effects of Faehn's potential absence on the team.

"We are going to do what we normally do, she just isn't going to see it."

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