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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Youth and inexperience nearly cost No. 1 UF a second-straight loss.

The Gators struggled in their first away meet of the season, but still defeated No. 17 Auburn 195.25-194.75.

For the second week in a row, the uneven bars gave the Gators trouble. The Gators lost last week's meet against No. 2 Georgia because of the bars when they took their first counted fall in nearly two years.

This time, it was star gymnasts Amanda Castillo and Melanie Sinclair who had uncharacteristic mistakes, as Castillo fell and Sinclair hit her foot on a bar.

"It was a little bit of a surprise, because they are the fifth and sixth competitors on the event," UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. "That shows that they are extremely strong, and they have always done a good job for us there."

The Gators were able to close the gap with another solid performance in the vault.

Nicola Willis vaulted a personal best of 9.9 to lead UF.

The young lineup was evident during floor routines when Courtney Gladys and Rebekah Zaiser both fell, resulting in the second counted fall in as many weeks.

Even with the falls, UF was able to take a .05 lead due to Auburn's struggles on the beam.

"On floor, the mistakes were about getting those athletes experience and getting them out there," Faehn said. "They just have to learn from it."

The Gators stayed poised in the last event and grabbed the victory after a solid effort on the balance beam.

"The most important thing was to see - on the road in this type of difficult situation and not doing 100 percent - the team to come back so strong on beam and not let some of the evening's performance affect them," Faehn said.

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On a night when UF's lack of experience showed, it was senior Ashley Reed who provided the Gators' most consistent performance.

Reed finished in the top three in three events and won the all-around competition.

After trying out a new routine on the bars and falling last week, Reed went back to her set from last year and immediately benefited from the switch, finishing with the Gators' highest bar score.

"Doing the old routine on the bars was helpful," Reed said. "I felt more consistent and ready to go, so that helped me out a lot.

Despite the senior's performance, it the Gators' youth was noticeable throughout the meet.

Faehn is using different lineups to get her team ready for NCAA championships, while trying to avoid last year's mistake of tiring the Gators out.

"Last year, we were known 100 percent for our consistency, but the issue was we put our top lineup in every single competition all year long," Faehn said. "Of course, those athletes are going to be extremely consistent, but in the end all the athletes were a little tired at nationals from the toll the whole season took on them."

By the end of the season, Faehn expects to find the lineup to give the Gators the best chance to win a championship.

"The team is a little younger, and we are dealing with less depth and new faces, and with that we are going to have some ups and downs," Faehn said. "This is a whole process in making sure we have our athletes the freshest and strongest at the end of the season."

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