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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The first road meet of the season for the No. 8 UF gymnastics team didn't go nearly as well as the team would've liked: They lost for the first time in series history against Arkansas.

Tonight, the Gators (3-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) will be competing in Baton Rouge, La., for their second road meet of the season against No. 11 LSU.

The two schools have a tight history. The Gators own a 52-28 series record over the Tigers (6-2, 1-2 SEC). But since 1995, 19 meetings have been decided by less than half a point.

If the Gators want to win their first road meet of the season, they may need to avoid a collapse like the one they suffered against the Razorbacks in Fayetteville on Jan. 23.

The team had a 0.525-point lead heading into the last event, balance beam, against the Razorbacks. Three falls later spelled a loss for UF.

"On beam, we just need to start having confidence and obviously make our routines with minimal deductions so we can get higher than 195 scores," junior Maranda Smith said.

The team has scored 195.425 and 195.925 the last two meets (1-1), respectively, after scoring 196.5 in the first two (2-0).

"We just need to get through our competition with lots of confidence and hitting 24-for-24 routines to prove ourselves," Smith said. "If we can go to some other team, with their fans yelling and still perform really well and get 9.9s and above, then that just helps our confidence overall."

UF coach Rhonda Faehn said she wants her team to compete aggressively "no matter what."

Aggressive competition comes from confidence, and a road win would certainly go a long way toward boosting morale.

"It's very important to always get a road win," Smith said. "Not only is it important for our confidence, but we also need to know how to compete when we're not in front of our home crowd, when maybe a crowd is against us."

Because UF is the visiting team, it will open the meet with uneven bars, statistically the team's strongest event. The Gators come in ranked No. 1 in the country on bars totaling season averages.

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Against Kentucky on Friday, Melanie Sinclair scored a perfect 10 on bars, fueling the win against the Wildcats.

Smith said the team has to continue what it's been doing all season on bars, vault and floor: perfecting landings and getting every little tenth of a point.

"I feel like right now with the performances we've done on vault and floor (exercise), it's good enough to just win," she said. "But I feel to do extremely well and get the 197s and everything, we need to get better scores on floor and vault."

To get the highest scores possible, bars will have to continue to be strong and floor and vault will need to eliminate the little tenths, but it appears the onus falls on an improved beam routine.

Faehn said it's important for every event to do well, not only for scoring purposes, but because the team feeds off earlier scores.

"What our goal has always been is to hit 24-for-24 routines, to have everybody hit," Faehn said. "Not just to not count a fall, but to hit 24 routines."

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