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Friday, April 19, 2024

Gators fans may be in for a treat tonight at 7 at the O'Connell Center when UF hosts No. 8 Alabama.

"It's great gymnastics, probably the best set of gymnastics in the O'Dome this year," said UF coach Rhonda Faehn.

As if winning wasn't incentive enough, the No. 6 Gators (4-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) are further excited by the prospect of facing the nation's eighth-ranked team.

"No matter who I compete against, I try to make it an important meet each time," senior Corey Hartung said. "But obviously if it's Georgia or Alabama or a top school, you want to go out there, and you know you have to do your best to beat them."

The team is coming off a morale-boosting win against Michigan State on Feb. 14, when the team scored a 196.85, a season-high.

"Last weekend was our starting point, and the only way we're going to go from here is up," Hartung said. "We're going to build off of how well we did last weekend. We proved (to) ourselves we could do it. Even a lot of the girls said it felt that great to have a meet like that."

One of the highlights of the Michigan State meet, and something the Gators need to maintain to have a chance against the Crimson Tide, is team chemistry.

"For me, knowing that my team is behind me and can trust me makes me feel like I can do that much better," Amanda Castillo said.

If the Gators want to come out with a win against arguably their toughest competition so far this season, they will have to start by practicing hard.

"What they do in the practice has to be done in the competition," Faehn said. "You can't slop through a turn and expect, 'It's OK, it's not going to happen in the meet.' It's not going to happen out there in the competition if it doesn't happen here in the gym.

"The practices were hard," Faehn continued. "They were really hard Monday and Tuesday. They did more (repetitions) and they didn't have that extra day to recover."

UF's home meets are normally held Friday nights, but the Michigan State meet was on a Saturday.

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The team also worked on vault landings in practice. Some overly aggressive mistakes against the Spartans cost UF some tenths, tenths that could prove the difference against Alabama (3-3, 2-3 SEC).

Since the team is back at home, vault will be the leadoff event for the Gators and a strong start is vital to build momentum and keep it going through the meet.

Castillo said the team can't let little mistakes derail its state of mind.

Even though Faehn said the team doesn't try to distinguish between road meets and home meets, the confines of the O'Connell Center have been kind to the Gators this season. The team is undefeated at home this year (3-0) with only one remaining home meet after Alabama.

Like Castillo said, though: "Alabama and Florida has always been a great rivalry. It's definitely one of the stronger competitions."

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