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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

UF and Georgia. Two schools that just don't like each other. A textbook example of rivals. Be it on the gridiron, in the pool, on the hardwood, even in a spitting contest.

The gymnastics floor is no different.

"Every meet we go into, no matter what the team, we always want to put forth our best effort," junior Courtney Gladys said. "But in Georgia, it's a pretty big rival for us."

The No. 7 Gators head to Athens, Ga., to take on the defending Southeastern Conference and NCAA champs, the No. 1 Bulldogs. UF is coming off its second consecutive meet where it raised its season-best score, posting a 196.875.

The Gators (5-2, 3-2 SEC) wrap up their SEC dual-meet season against the No. 1 team in the nation, which will let the team see how it stacks up against the best competition it will see in the SEC Championships later this season.

"To come and say we beat Georgia, it's a bigger deal, I think," senior Corey Hartung said. "They're ranked No. 1. If we can beat them, then we know that we can win SECs and that we can win nationals. Here's our testing point for the season."

UF and Georgia have a dramatic and close history. Last season, the Gators were unable to register a win against the Bulldogs, with two of the losses coming by the slimmest margin possible, .025 - once at home on Jan. 18, 2008, and the other coming in the SEC Championships.

"You do try to do your best against them because they are such a top school, and they're always going to be good competition," junior Melanie Sinclair said.

Hartung and Georgia's Courtney Kupets have some history of their own. The pair trained together for five years in their pre-college days in Gaithersburg, Md., at Hill's Gymnastics.

"We're great friends," Hartung said. "I'm probably closest to her from their team because I trained with her for five years. I look up to her too."

While there's no love lost between the two, Hartung and the Gators know a win this weekend would be an impressive addition to their resume.

In a sport largely devoid of trash talking, UF-Georgia may be the closest teams ever come to harsh words, or at least light-hearted verbal exchanges.

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"I don't know if a Dawg can stand up to a Gator," Sinclair said.

She added that the team played around in practice, barking to mimic the sound UF will encounter in Stegeman Coliseum.

Even though Georgia is arguably UF's biggest rival in gymnastics, UF coach Rhonda Faehn said the team can't overestimate the meet and has to treat it like any other. But even she couldn't ignore the stigma associated with a Georgia meet.

"That's human nature. I think that's natural, something you want maybe a little bit more," Faehn said. "But we always have to keep a strong perspective - it is another dual competition. It's not the SEC Championship. It's not the national championship."

Faehn said this weekend's meet would be used as another tool to evaluate the team and see what needs work as the dual-meet season dwindles.

"We have to not put too much emphasis on this being a big competition and treat it just like any other," she said.

Easier said than done when it's a rival like Georgia.

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