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Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Gators have wasted no time flexing their imaginations in the days leading up to this weekend’s NCAA Championships.

As its biggest competition has creeped closer, finally kicking off with the semifinals in Cleveland tonight, the team has worked to imitate the meet’s setting on its home turf.

This weekend will round out the season, as the top three teams in each of tonight’s two semifinal sessions will advance to the NCAA Super Six on Saturday to vie for the national title.

After failing to perform under pressure at the NCAA North Central Regional competition earlier this month, the Gators have been using a heavy dose of intrasquad scrimmages to create pressure situations and perfect their blemishes in the practice studio.

“A mistake would happen, and the nerves kind of got higher and higher and higher,” senior Maranda Smith said of the team’s lackluster regional performances. 

The fifth-seeded Gators hope to avoid any surprises this weekend after emulating the meet’s setting down to its finest details.

UF formed a team corral during the intrasquads, which is where the gymnasts are separated from the performer, prompting them to amp up their own energy and support the competing gymnast.

“We’ve been trying to scream as loud as we can,” Smith said. “We’ve been trying to put pressure on them and make it like an exact meet setting.”

The coaches also played their part, as Rhonda Faehn calmly talked to the gymnasts individually before each performed her practice routine, prepping them just as she does during competitions. The assistant coaches took on the role of the meet’s judges.

As the intrasquad competitions have racked up, freshman Mackenzie Caquatto said, the once-lacking confidence is starting to shine through once again.

“We can definitely see a lot more confidence in their faces,” Caquatto said. “They’re not as timid. They’re not holding back.”

Caquatto is part of the crew that makes up what Faehn calls her “heavy hitters.” Faehn said it would be especially important that Caquatto, Alaina Johnson, Ashanée Dickerson, Marissa King and Smith are all in top form this weekend.

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“Those are the ones that have come up, typically, with the big scores for us,” Faehn said. “What we’re asking is that they go out and stay focused on the present moment and not get ahead of themselves.

“We’re going to lay it all out on the line,” Faehn said. “However it finishes, it finishes. But we’re not going to leave there with any regrets.”

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