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Saturday, June 03, 2023

Gators lose SEC Championship to Bulldogs by smallest possible margin again

With just one rotation left in the Southeastern Conference championship, the Gators needed a score of 49.225 on the balance beam to take down No. 1 Georgia, who had already finished and could only watch from the side.

Just like the dual meet against UGA earlier in the season, it would come down to Amanda Castillo.

She needed a 9.825 to clinch a share of the SEC title, a score that she achieved all but three times on the beam during the season.

Instead, Castillo slipped off and was deducted .5 from her score, sealing the win for the Bulldogs.

Coach Rhonda Faehn knew nearly right away that her team's beam score of 49.175 would not be enough to repeat as SEC champions.

"I knew that we would have to go out and hit very clean routines, and we couldn't afford getting 9.8s and expect to win," Faehn said. "I felt it wouldn't go in our favor since we didn't have our best on the beam, and we definitely could have put ourselves in a better situation."

For the second time this season, No. 3 UF finished just .025 - the smallest margin possible - behind the defending national champions' score of 197.35.

The Gators would have to settle for a second-place tie with No. 6 Alabama - it finished with its highest event total of the day on vault to catch UF - with a score of 197.325.

After the meet, Faehn talked with Castillo to make sure she knew that the loss was not just her fault and to remind Castillo of her importance to the team in the next couple of weeks.

"I talked with her and wanted to find out what she was thinking about when she went in, why she made the mistake and what we need to do to fix that," Faehn said. "If it happens again when we are at home or in Athens, we need to be able to fix that, because we need to depend on her, because she is a solid competitor - she is a rock."

Faehn also said what lost the Gators the meet was a combination of mistakes they made throughout the day, not just the beam event.

In the first event for UF, the floor exercise, Faehn said the team looked tight and made a few errors.

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"We had a few mistakes on the floor, two mishaps on the tumbling passes and another athlete went out of bounds, so that was three areas we could have been higher," Faehn said.

Despite the disappointing second-place finish, there were a few bright spots for UF.

A Gator claimed a share for first place in each event-Melanie Sinclair on the uneven bars, Ashley Reed on vault, Corey Hartung on the beam and Castillo on the floor.

Even with a few high points, the Gators had to deal with the tough thought of losing to UGA in such a difficult fashion with the score being so close.

Hartung said she expects the second defeat to the Bulldogs by .025 will motivate the team at nationals.

"I don't know how to describe the feeling," Hartung said. "We were disappointed, we were mad about losing by such a small margin of points, but this will make us tougher and stronger and make us work harder at nationals.

UF will not have much time to dwell on the loss, as it has to turn its attention to preparing for the national championships.

The first step towards making it to the meet in Athens, Ga., on April 24-26 is finishing in the top two at the regional qualifying meet on April 12 in Gainesville.

If the Gators do advance to the national championship as expected, they will get their third chance to face the Bulldogs.

Hartung hopes to pull a page out of the Bulldogs' book by winning nationals after losing at SECs, but she knows they still have to get through regionals first.

"We are going to continue to doing what we are doing and take it one meet at a time," she said.

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