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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The UF gymnastics roster has 12 names on it. Only seven of those names were able to compete at the Southeastern Conference Championships on Saturday.

As hurt as the team was, the seven gymnasts competing finished third with a score of 196.75, the team's fourth best score this season.

"The team inside and outside of the arena was amazing," Melanie Sinclair said. "Under these circumstances, under this pressure, under everything that's been going on, we were able to pull out third place? That's amazing. That's phenomenal."

The team drew the Olympic rotation, meaning it was the same format as home meets: vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.

The Gators opened up on vault with a 49.2 thanks to a pair of 9.85s from Sinclair and Maranda Smith. Corey Hartung, who returned to the competitive lineup for the first time since the Feb. 28 meet against Georgia, turned in a season-best score of 9.9.

UF coach Rhonda Faehn credited Hartung's return as an enormous boost for the whole team.

"To do as amazing as she did with the limited amounts of training going into the competition was just phenomenal," Faehn said.

Hartung said she spent the weekend mentally preparing herself, envisioning how she wanted her routines to go and blocking out her injured calf, which she said was still tight.

The Gators moved to bars, where Hartung's return was undeniably noticeable. With only five gymnasts on the bars lineup, there was no room for error, and the team responded with a 49.375, the best bars score for the Gators since they hosted Kentucky on Jan. 30.

Hartung and Sinclair posted 9.95s, good for second overall. Smith pitched in a 9.9 and all-arounders Elizabeth Mahlich and Courtney Gladys scored 9.8 and 9.775, respectively.

"We had only five people on bars. Normally that would make it a stressful situation," Faehn said. "This team did not respond that way. They were very calm. They performed aggressively there."

Beam was the Gators' only perceivable hiccup. The team's 48.825 was fueled by Sinclair and Gladys' 9.8s. Mahlich followed closely with a 9.775.

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UF finished the meet on floor, and because it was the last event for the Gators, Faehn decided to put Hartung in after she was slated to only do vault, bars and beam.

The decision paid off, as Hartung led the team with a 9.925.

"I knew the coaches and the trainers were iffy about it," Hartung said. "I knew I wanted to do it, so it was in my head that I was going to do floor. I didn't have any doubt that I could do it."

Smith captured her second 9.9 of the night, and Sinclair and Amy Ferguson turned in 9.85s to give the Gators their third highest floor total this season, a 49.35.

The Gators' third-place finish was a bit of a surprise given their disastrous injury situation. Two of the schools UF beat out for third, LSU and Arkansas, were road opponents the Gators lost to earlier this season.

"One thing we know is to absolutely never underestimate this team," Faehn said. "Many people have counted us out with the injuries we had. That gave this team more motivation."

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