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Thursday, March 30, 2023

The UF gymnastics team opens its season on the road at Norman, Okla., for its first meet of the season against No. 9 Oklahoma tonight at 8. With weather forecasted to be in the teens at the time of the meet, the team can be thankful it gets to perform indoors.

That doesn’t mean the Gators’ reception will be any warmer.

And with five freshmen who figure to make an immediate impacts on event lineups, it may not take the Sooners faithful long to single them out

Still, UF gymnastics coach Rhonda Faehn is ready to start the season and see if her freshmen will sink or swim, stick the landing or stumble in their first college meet.

“Most important thing, we have to get our feet wet, get that first competition underway,” she said.

Because the Gators are the away team, they won’t have the advantage of beginning on vault and ending with floor routines.

Instead, the order of events for UF will be uneven bars, vault, floor exercise and balance beam, one more challenge for the team’s freshmen to adjust to.

Florida’s performance on bars will give the team a quick look at how much Melanie Sinclair will be missed. Last year, Sinclair posted a perfect 10 on bars against Kentucky, and her removal from the team due to legal issues could impact the team’s scoring potential for the event.

“Bars, I’m not gonna lie — she would get a 10 a couple of times and it was almost a guaranteed 9.9,” Faehn said about Sinclair. “Our athletes know they just have to work a little harder to gain maybe a quarter-extra tenth for each athlete.”

Freshmen, like Ashanée Dickerson, will be looked upon early to fill the gaps left by last year’s losses on every event – not just bars – and could be all-around competitors.

Vault, the team’s weakest event last year due to lack of depth, should be better this year.

If there’s one event where the Gators expect to pull away from Oklahoma, it’s the floor.

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“I think this floor team rivals the floor team we had in 2007, which we felt we could almost field two floor teams,” Faehn said.

Amy Ferguson, who last year was a staple of the floor lineup, has changed her routine to include more complex skills at a faster pace to complement returning gymnasts Maranda Smith and Courtney Gladys.

“We have solid lineups and a few more on each event,” Ferguson said. “Floor, I definitely think, is going to be a strong event. We’ll definitely go out with a bang on floor this year.”

The last event, the balance beam, gave the team trouble early last season. This year provides a different challenge: 10 to 11 gymnasts who could earn a spot are battling for six openings. That would mean taking off gymnasts who were doing double- and triple-time last season, filling in on events for other injured gymnasts.

“We do have more depth this year, and that makes everyone feel a little bit more comfortable,” senior Amanda Castillo said. “Ultimately, that will help us perform better— we  we’ll have a bit more confidence.”

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