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Thursday, March 30, 2023

After hitting the road for its season-opener last week in Oklahoma, No. 8 Florida (0-1, 0-0 Southeastern Conference) will perform in the friendly confines of the O’Connell Center for its SEC-opener against No. 7 Arkansas (1-0, 0-0 SEC) Friday night.

The last time the Gators opened at home against an SEC team, they came away with a victory over LSU in 2004.

The team hopes for a similar result against the Razorbacks, as it tries to rebound from a tough loss to the Sooners when the Gators couldn’t recover from a rough start on the uneven bars.

But Florida won’t have to worry about early struggles on the bars this week. As the home team, the Gators will begin on the vault, where they scored a 49.30 in their strongest event in the season opener.

“It’s really important for us to bounce back,” junior Alicia Goodwin said. “Everyone knows what we’re capable of out there.”

After working hard in practice all week to fine-tune the details of their routines, the Gators hope to avoid the mistakes they made against Oklahoma.

“I expect them all to step up,” UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. “I think they all did a very poor job [last week], in terms of not going aggressively.”

Another thing that will help the team this week, and as the season progresses, is the experience gained by its freshman class, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation by coming into the season.

In their season-opener, the Gators had about half of their routines performed by freshmen.

“They’re just getting their feet wet,” senior Amanda Castillo said.

Faehn reiterated the fact the team isn’t as top-heavy with upperclassmen as in years past, so there isn’t much time for the freshmen to be eased into competition.

“They are our talent,” Faehn said. “They need to be out there.”

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The freshman talent includes Ashanée Dickerson, who turned in a 39.350 all-around total against Oklahoma.

Being in front of a home crowd could do a lot for the freshmen, as well as the rest of the team. Since last season, Florida ranked fourth in the nation in average home attendance, at 5,704 per meet.

“The fans we have here at Florida are great,” Castillo said. “When you have thousands of people screaming your name, you’re a lot more motivated to do well and perform at a higher level.”

The Gators own the series record against the Razorbacks, 20-1, with the only loss coming in last season’s dual meet.

If the team hopes to continue its dominance over the Razorbacks, it’s going to need to feed off of the home crowd and perform at a higher level.

“Coming away with a win this weekend would be a definite confidence booster,” Castillo said.

And a confidence boost could be what the team needs to rebound after a rough start to the young season.

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