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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

It used to be every gymnast for herself. Now, they give it all for the team.

The realm of college gymnastics is far different from the club sport that the gymnasts have competed in most of their lives.

Florida carries five freshmen this season, and they are all adjusting to the transition.

“It’s quite a big difference. With club gymnastics, it’s centered more around individual gymnastics,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “In college, it’s solely about the team. They have individual results and individual accolades, but the decisions we make as a coaching staff are always geared toward the success of the team.”

Faehn said two-time Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week Alaina Johnson came in as an elite gymnast, competing by herself most of her career. Now an all-arounder for the Gators, Johnson has still been reeling in the individual awards — but with the mindset to do it for the team.

“This is a big change,” Johnson said. “I’ve had team support, but not as much as what I have now. It’s different because we’re all pulling for each other and wanting the same exact goal.”

Fellow freshman Mackenzie Caquatto, Johnson’s roommate, had a taste of competing as a unit rather than an individual when she performed as part of the United States team in the 2010 World Championships in the Netherlands. 

“At Worlds, it was about competing for Team U.S.A. and just representing and doing your part in each event, which is kind of like it is here,” she said. “We each have our events that we do, and we’re competing for the team.”

Caquatto said in club gymnastics athletes focus more on how many events they can do. But she added that at the college level, it’s about perfecting your skills and focusing on specialization.

Though Caquatto entered UF as an all-around competitor, she has only competed in uneven parallel bars and balance beam this season. In last week’s meet against Kentucky, she posted a 9.900 on bars and tied for third on balance beam.

Freshman gymnast Brittney Noble said a big difference between club and college is the enjoyment.

“It’s so much more fun than club gymnastics,” she said. “It’s much more of a team environment and, personally, I love that aspect of it and bonding with the girls and running to the end of the vault when somebody finishes a vault. You can be louder, you can cheer, you can be crazy.”

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Following last week’s meet, Johnson said her voice was gone because she was cheering for her team so loudly.

Because they are competing for the team, Faehn said athletes are under more pressure than they may have experienced in club gymnastics.

“The athletes feel they don’t want to let their teammates down,” Faehn said. “At the same time it’s far greater enjoyment for them because they have their team cheering for them, supporting them along the way.

“From what experience I’ve had and what the athletes would say, it’s far more tremendous to be able to have a team help you and share in the success.”

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