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Friday, April 19, 2024

UF coach Rhonda Faehn said last week that the Alabama meet might provide the best gymnastics the O'Connell Center saw all year.

The Gators kept their end of the deal.

Setting a season-high score for the second consecutive week, No. 6 UF (5-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) pushed its home record to 4-0 by beating No. 8 Alabama 196.875 to 195.625.

"It means a lot, not only to win against a top SEC school, but we finally put good routines together on the competition day," junior Maranda Smith said.

The Gators weren't mistake-proof, though.

Corey Hartung scored a surprisingly low 9.35 on vault.

"I was kind of shocked," Hartung said.

Faehn said it was the result of coaches working with her, trying to get her into the horse faster. As a result, she was too aggressive, and her hand slipped.

Smith, who was the anchor leg on vault, didn't let Hartung's score faze her.

She turned in the second 9.9 of the lineup after Melanie Sinclair scored the same in the third position.

"We're still not where we should be at the end of the season. We're still getting there," Faehn said. "But what's nice to see is that they're not reacting negatively to small mistakes. They're not letting it affect the next performer."

Alabama (3-4, 2-4 SEC) helped UF forget about the low score when the Tide's Ashley Priess scored a 9.35 on uneven bars.

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Moving to bars, UF had another slight landing problem. Alicia Goodwin, who had a solid routine, took a step on her landing, resulting in a 9.625.

After the first two events, the meet was close, with the two teams separated by 0.125 points.

UF headed to beam with the lead and kept it. Whereas beam has been a question mark in past meets, the event went without issue Friday night.

"We're sick of falling on beam, so we went out there and tried to prove it and have a good home meet on beam," Hartung said.

Sinclair added that having a set lineup went a long way toward getting the gymnasts comfortable and focused.

From beam, the Gators moved to floor exercise. Alabama, the No. 1 beam team in the country before the meet, had beam as its last event.

UF registered consistently good scores on floor, and Alabama imploded on beam, turning in its lowest score of the season in the event for a difference of a whole point on the last event.

Amanda Castillo made her first appearance on floor this season. The two-time SEC floor champ has been hampered by bursitis in her ankle and exhibitioned the event over fears about her endurance.

"She has to be out there. She was so excited just to feel that energy again," Faehn said. "We need her in the floor lineup, just her energy and her enthusiasm."

Sinclair, who won the all-around title with a 39.55 - including a 9.95 on bars - said the win helps boost morale with Georgia on the horizon but warned against complacency.

"No, you can never chill out," she said. "I still have five more (hundredths) to get a perfect score, so you never relax."

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