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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Maranda Smith already bid her farewell to The Gator Nation.

She had her Senior Night. She said her goodbyes.

But when the NCAA granted Smith an additional year of eligibility, she got a second chance.

Tonight, when No. 1 Florida competes against No. 22 Auburn in the Gators’ final home meet, it will once again be Smith’s last time competing in the O’Connell Center during the regular season.

“Now, it’s really coming to an end,” she said. “It’s a whole different feeling than last year. This is kind of like the hurrah. Now, I’m really done.”

Even though she will be honored along with senior Alicia Goodwin tonight, Smith said her true Senior Night was last year. 

“Those girls I went through Senior Night with, that was my class,” she said. “Those were the girls that I came in with.”

And the California girl who was a redshirt freshman for the Gators in 2008 is nowhere near the woman Smith will step out as.

Before coming to Florida, Smith competed for UCLA. But after a slew of injuries caused her to hang up her leotard for two years, she thought she’d never get back to being the gymnast she once was.

“I have confidence in myself as a gymnast again,” Smith said. “I didn’t really know if I could ever really be the gymnast I used to be. As the years went on, I continued to progress and improve. I’ve gotten better and better each year.”

While Smith will experience déjà vu tonight, fellow senior Alicia Goodwin said she can’t believe it is her time.

“When I got here freshman year, I remember the seniors kept telling me, ‘It goes so fast, just remember to savor each moment,’” Goodwin said. “You never think it’ll go as fast as it does. It’s crazy that it’s already here.”

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During her time as a Gator, the beam and bars star has impacted the team with far more than just her performance on the mats.

“She is always the one behind the scenes, helping everyone out,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “She’s always making sure that the new athlete on the team is getting adjusted. She’s always looking out for everyone on the team, and that’s something that’s really special and that can’t be forced.”

When sophomore Marissa King moved to Gainesville from Cambridge, England, it was Goodwin who leant her a helping hand. 

“She’s the person who helped me set up bank accounts, laptops, stuff like that,” King said. “She’s one who really helped me settle down in this country. I can never thank her enough for doing that because I wouldn’t have known anything.”

Though the seniors will round out their last regular-season performances at the O’Dome tonight, don’t expect their faces to fade away. They will still be on campus and plan to graduate in December.

“I’ll be around,” Goodwin said. “I’ll be at the meets, probably popping in the gym. I wont go away fully.”

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