Rhonda Faehn is still winless in Tuscaloosa.
No. 1 Florida (2-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) suffered its first loss of the season at No. 7 Alabama (2-1, 1-1 SEC) Friday night, showing signs of a young team with little experience performing in such a hostile environment.
Alabama’s performance was just the opposite, displaying the determination of a team that wanted to prove last week’s loss to Arkansas was a fluke with flawless execution throughout the meet.
“It’s really hard to find much positive tonight,” Faehn said. “When I look at the entirety of the competition, out of the 24 routines as opportunities, I think we maybe hit five clean routines without a glaring error, so that’s very frustrating.”
The Gators put themselves behind the eight ball from the start, scoring a meager 48.950 on bars, with freshman Alex McMurtry’s 9.825 being the team-high. No other Gator scored higher than a 9.800, while the Crimson Tide scored no worse than McMurtry in their first rotation, earning a 49.500 on vault to take an early lead.
The balance beam was another event of concern for the Gators.
Freshman Kennedy Baker started the rotation off by falling within the first 10 seconds of her routine, putting the pressure on the rest of the lineup. And while they were able to avoid disaster from another fall, the rest of the routines were underwhelming except for sophomore Claire Boyce’s 9.900, leaving the team with a 49.000.
Faehn said she thought the poor first rotation sucked the life out of the team, and from then on there was a lack energy in each rotation.
“I’m looking for our upperclassmen to really step up and show that energy,” she said. “I just felt, from the top down, other than Kytra (Hunter) we were just really timid.”
She also said the atmosphere in the Coleman Coliseum combined with the absence of junior Bridget Sloan’s energy on the competition floor contributed heavily to the team’s low energy level.
Florida’s second rotation — vault — was its most successful. Senior Kiersten Wang started the event off with a 9.900, and Hunter was able to execute a sensational routine that earned a 9.975. McMurtry followed that up with a 9.950, further cementing that she will be a major factor for the Gators as the season progresses.
Faehn said she hopes to see the freshman compete in the all-around competition in the near-future.
Kytra Hunter was the other bright spot of the evening for Florida. The senior took home her third-straight all-around title this year with a score of 39.550.
Florida’s road gets no easier, as its next meet will be against No. 10 Georgia next Friday in the O’Connell Center.
But for now, Faehn said the team will need to take the experience from Friday night and grow from it, because there are many more challenges yet to come this year.
“This is our first road competition of a really challenging magnitude and it’s important for these athletes to be in that environment,” she said. “They need to see for themselves if they responded in the way that they wanted to or if they responded in a way that they didn’t want to, and to learn from it before we go into other road competitions that are going to be equally if not more challenging.”
Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24
Kytra Hunter performs her floor exercise during Florida's 197.200-195.650 win against Auburn on Jan. 16 in the O'Connell Center.