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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Top-ranked UF, Georgia clash in season's toughest meet

The UF-Georgia gymnastics rivalry will be taken to a new level this Friday night.

The teams switched positions in the polls this week, with the Gators taking over the No. 1 spot in the rankings while the Bulldogs fell to No. 2.

This will be the highest-ranked dual meet in the O'Connell Center's history.

Despite outside concerns about how the Gators will respond to the new ranking, they are confident that they are ready for the top spot.

"I think we are going to do well," redshirt sophomore Melanie Sinclair said. "I feel we have prepared ourselves well to be put into that situation, so as long as we do what we have been training this whole time, we will be fine."

Sinclair was named Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Week on Tuesday for her 39.525 all-around performance against Illinois-Chicago last week.

She said the honor was a surprise to her because she did not think she had that great of a performance.

Last year the Gators and the Bulldogs saw each other three times in competition and finished with three different results.

The two teams tied in their first meet, and then UF beat Georgia in the SEC Championships.

Unfortunately for the Gators, the Bulldogs peaked at the third and most important meeting - the NCAA Championships.

Georgia took home the title while UF finished third.

While this could be UF's biggest regular-season meet, the Gators are focused on improving mistakes from their first competition.

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Senior Ashley Reed said the team has been preparing the same way by training hard all week and just trying to fix the small mistakes they made last week.

The meet will be both teams' SEC openers, and the Gators will try to continue their success in conference openers at home. UF is 12-3 all-time in such meets.

The team should get an extra boost from the return of its coach.

Coach Rhonda Faehn was back at practice on Sunday after missing most of last week, including the Illinois-Chicago meet, because of the arrival of her new baby boy, Noah Émile Bayon.

Reed was pleased to have her coach back for the meet against the Bulldogs.

"It's huge for us because Rhonda has such moral support for us," Reed said. "She really helps us out each day in the gym."

Faehn is excited to see her team go against rival Georgia and hopes the tough competition will bring out a big performance from her gymnasts.

"It's just going to be a great competition, and it's really going to pump up our athletes and to push them to a really high level," Faehn said.

UGA started the season with a loss to No. 3 Utah, but beat No. 5 Stanford in its second meet.

The three-time defending national champion Bulldogs will be looking to continue their dominance over UF - UGA leads the all-time series 84-31-1.

Even though the Gators are focused on a national championship, a win against Georgia would provide early-season momentum.

"It would be great to win," Reed said. "It's always so much fun. It's a great rivalry and to beat them always gets us real pumped up."

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