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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Before arriving at UF in January, gymnast Maranda Smith had forgotten what she enjoyed about gymnastics.

In just over a month with the No. 3 Gators (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference), she has been reminded of all the fun she used to have competing.

"I lost what was fun about gymnastics," Smith said. "I couldn't even tell people if they asked me, 'Oh, what's so fun about doing the sport?' I would be like, 'I don't know; I hate it right now.'

"Being here the past six weeks, I just found out why gymnastics is fun and I'm just so happy to be here."

Smith transferred to UF after more than a year away from the sport due to a knee injury she suffered in her second meet at UCLA.

After the injury, Smith feared she would never compete again but is now one of UF's strongest performers on the uneven parallel bars and is working her way into the floor rotation.

"Floor was the place where we had the least amount of depth, so we were excited about her performance at Pittsburgh," UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. "It's just icing on the cake that she is doing so well on the bars, too."

Against the Panthers, Smith finished in the top three on the floor exercise for the first time in her college career, with a third-place score of 9.875.

Although she is still looking for higher scores on the bars, Smith has been moved into the leadoff spot in the event for her consistent performance - she switched positions in the lineup with Nicola Willis.

Smith has yet to fall on the bars, while some of her other teammates have struggled this year.

Returning to competition hasn't been the only reason for her rediscovering the love she once felt for gymnastics.

"The girls were all really open when I first came, and they are really nice girls," Smith said. "The coaches were all really understanding with my injury, and they just make it fun."

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Her switch to UF almost seemed too easy. Smith seemed to mesh with the other gymnasts immediately.

"We were just talking about that the other day, how she fit right in and we're all really close friends now," said Corey Hartung, one of the team's co-captains.

Success in the two events isn't enough for Smith - next year she hopes to be able to compete in the vault as well.

"Eventually, I would like to start doing vault again, but right now they just have me focused on bar and floor so I don't hurt my leg too much," Smith said.

Smith and the other Gators will need to be at the top of their game on Friday when they host the No. 6 LSU Tigers in the second annual Link to Pink meet.

Both teams will shed their team colors to help raise awareness for breast cancer and wear pink leotards.

"It is really a tremendous opportunity for all of us here at the university to do whatever we can to help such a tremendous cause," Faehn said.

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