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Friday, September 29, 2023

A glittering sign that reads, “what are U made oF?” dangles in the Ted Crom Gymnastics Studio, just above the countdown clock for tonight’s meet against No. 10 Nebraska.

“The team comes up with their slogan in the fall, and that was something that they really were excited about,” Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said. “To get everyone on board and have the same passion, the same heart, the same work ethic and to really prove to one another — and to everyone else out there — that no one will outwork them. They’re going to show really what they’re made of.”

The team’s mantra will be spilled onto the mats tonight at 7 as the No. 3 Gators open their season against the Cornhuskers in the O’Connell Center.

Before Faehn began her reign as a coach at UF, she was an assistant coach for Nebraska, as was current Gators assistant coach Adrian Burde. At last year’s NCAA Championships, Nebraska finished seventh while the Gators came in fifth place.

“They’re a great gymnastics program, historically, and are very strong,” Faehn said. “We’re looking forward to probably some of the best gymnastics that’s going to be in the O’Dome throughout the season. Nebraska is going to be a very strong competitor.”

Though tonight’s meet will be the squad’s first of the season, the women were exposed to competition format nearly a month ago in an intrasquad meet on Dec. 9.

“This intrasquad was better than the year’s past, which was good to see because our workout habits were a little bit different this season,” senior Maranda Smith said. “We put our routines together earlier, so that jump-started us to being more prepared for that first competition than we were last year.

“We went into that first meet last year still kind of thinking too much about our routines rather than just letting it happen and being able to show what Rhonda says, the ‘polish and detail.’”

Faehn said the meet allowed for constructive criticism and also got rid of any preseason butterflies.

“I got all the nervous jitters out,” sophomore Ashanée Dickerson said. “It gets you back into routine mode to show off in front of the crowd.”

The 2010 Southeastern Conference champion Gators return five All-Americans this season and added four freshmen — including Mackenzie Caquatto and Alaina Johnson, who have never been to a college gymnastics meet, Dickerson said, and will be getting their first taste tonight. Although the team only carries two seniors this season, Smith said that leadership has been anything but lacking.

“Every year the leadership roles change, and I really feel this year a lot of the girls have just stepped up in different ways than last,” Smith said. “It’s good to see that it’s not just dependent on the seniors of being leaders. Now, it’s where everyone can be, whether you are a sophomore or a freshman.”

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