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Friday, April 19, 2024

Out of the frying pan that is Baton Rouge, La., and into the fire that is East Lansing, Mich.

The No. 9 UF gymnastics team will take to the road for its second consecutive away meet to take on Michigan State in a Valentine's Day meet.

The Gators (3-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) are 0-2 on the road this season after losing their latest bout at LSU last Friday.

Even though the performance against the Tigers was hailed by UF coach Rhonda Faehn as better than the previous two meets, it wasn't good enough for the win. Faehn added that the performance showed how far away the team was from tapping its true potential.

A large part of the blame falls on injuries, which have prevented UF from putting out a consistent, 24-for-24 lineup this season.

Amanda Castillo has nursed bursitis in her ankle the whole season and been scattered around on events since the first meet. After performing on balance beam and uneven bars for the first four meets, she was taken off beam against the Tigers, but was still plugged into the floor lineup for the first time this season.

She was on the vault lineup the first meet and hasn't appeared on vault since, but Faehn said Castillo has started training on vault this week and may be in the lineup - unveiling yet another lineup change from last week.

Freshman Nicole Ellis had a hip problem take her out against Arkansas Jan. 23 after she'd performed in the first two meets. She returned against Kentucky on vault Jan. 30, scoring a 9.775. Her hip appeared to be better, and Ellis improved to a 9.85 on vault against LSU.

Six weeks into the season, it appears Faehn may finally be getting close to a final lineup.

She said the team was set on bars and vault is close, but depends on Castillo's progress.

Castillo should also be in the floor lineup again, but where she competes in the lineup is unsure and may be meet-to-meet.

The most problematic event for this team this season, beam, may finally be tamed.

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"On beam, I truly feel the lineup we're going to have this weekend at Michigan State will be our set lineup," Faehn said. "We're hoping it will be there, and we're not deviating from it, no matter what."

Beam has been the team's weakest event this season after it was the Gators' best event in the first meet. The team is ranked 22nd in the country on beam coming into this meet.

As if the team needed anything else going against it, they will have to leave the confines of Gainesville for a second straight meet.

"I would say that right now (the road meet's) not any different than any of our home meets," Faehn said. "We haven't performed the way we needed to at either place."

If the Gators want some Valentine's Day love in East Lansing, they will need to improve upon this season's performances and pull bits and pieces of highlights from every meet, culminating with the team shedding its tentativeness.

"This isn't the place we want to be right now, and it's not where we anticipated being this far down in our season," Faehn said. "We know we have a hill we have to climb."

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