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Friday, April 19, 2024

The Southeastern Conference is more than just a football conference. It's also a hotbed for gymnastics.

No. 6 UF, coming off its first road win of the season, hosts No. 8 Alabama on Friday in a matchup of SEC gymnastics powerhouses.

The Gators (4-2, 2-2 SEC) should be riding the momentum from their last meet, when they notched their season-high score of 196.85.

The two schools have a long history - this is the 22nd consecutive time both UF and Alabama (3-3, 2-3 SEC) bring a top-10 ranking into a meeting. The two schools tied last year for second place at the SEC Championships.

"(Alabama loves) getting up for really tough challenges and great competition," UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. "Obviously we're not watching that team, but historically if it's a very strong, great team, it makes you compete harder. It honestly brings out the best gymnastics."

The closest thing to its "best gymnastics" UF has had this year came against Michigan State on Valentine's Day. En route to setting a season-best score, the team saw the well of potential despite a few mistakes.

The biggest problem for the Gators in East Lansing, Mich., and something they may not be able to afford if they hope to beat the Crimson Tide, was vault landings.

Vault proved statistically to be UF's worst event against the Spartans, scoring a 49.125, tying the team's lowest score this season.

One of the so-to-speak new additions to the vault lineup was Amanda Castillo.

Castillo came back to the vault lineup for the first time since the Gators' opening meet Jan. 9. She scored a 9.8 on Saturday, the same as she did Jan. 9.

Faehn said Castillo, who has been nursing bursitis in her ankle, would be in the vault lineup again with a lower degree of difficulty until she's ready to do her full routine.

"(Amanda) does not want to rest. She does not want to be given any leeway," Faehn said. "She wants to be pushed and she wants to be out there because she knows that she wants to give everything for this team."

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Despite the rough landings on vault, Faehn was proud of her team for sticking together and ignoring the mistakes.

"The little mistakes that had happened, it very easily could have turned into the next athlete going and making a mistake and that did not happen," Faehn said. "I think that's showing that they are becoming more comfortable in their situation and their lineup and their role."

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