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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
<p>Rachel Spicer performs a balance beam routine during Florida's win against Auburn on Friday in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Rachel Spicer performs a balance beam routine during Florida's win against Auburn on Friday in the O'Connell Center.

Gymnastics may be based on individual performances, but Florida coach Rhonda Faehn wants her team to continue to embrace the team concept.

With two meets under their belt, the Gators are showing improvements, and in terms of performance, they are right where Faehn wants them to be at early in the season.

But as the team continues to deal with the absence of junior Bridget Sloan — who is now off crutches and in a walking boot — she wants to see more production from the Gators’ top performers.

Against Auburn, Faehn said the team rallied together and became closer, adding that doing so without Sloan in the lineup was an important step.

Still, she hopes to see her upperclassmen grow and be able lead the team when needed, including senior Rachel Spicer.

"Last year she contributed a lot," Faehn said. "We’re looking for her to be able to step up, to be able to contribute like she did last year. She knows that. She knows what she needs to do and she’s getting there. She’s now in two events, but the one event we’d really love to see her get back on is floor, and that’s where she really shined last year."

Spicer has been a leader outside of competition, though, helping Florida’s freshmen learn to rely on their teammates instead of maintaining an individualistic mindset.

"The biggest thing is just learning that it’s a team sport," Spicer said, "because before they got to college it was all individual based, all on yourself, but now when you’re here it’s all team. You’re doing it for your team."

Someone who has learned how to do it for her team is sophomore Claire Boyce, and Faehn has noticed how Boyce’s commitment has resonated with her teammates.

After a successful freshman season, Boyce had to overcome an elbow injury and subsequent surgery during the summer. Faehn said Boyce was unable to begin training for uneven bars until November.

"For her to fight her way back, be in our bar lineup doing a great job, doing three events now and showing that leadership that the athletes feel like they can trust her," Faehn said. "They can count on her. That’s a great position to be in and I think she carries that very well."

Boyce is competing in three rotations this season — bars, balance beam and floor exercise.

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Through two meets this season, the sophomore holds UF’s highest beam score — a 9.925 she recorded in the season-opening win against Ball State.

Boyce said she believes Sloan’s injury has given more gymnasts an opportunity to get involved, gain experience and be better prepared for the challenges the Gators will face late in the year.

And if Sloan is able to return at some point before season’s end, she will join a more complete team.

"Obviously we love Bridget, she’s like the rock of our team," Boyce said. "But it’s also really exciting for the younger people to be able to step in, and they’ve been ready, we’re all ready. … Whenever we’re able to get into that lineup, we’re ready to prove ourselves and show that we can do it and I think it’s great, it’s a great opportunity and it shows everybody else that we have a great team, that it’s really talented."

Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24

Rachel Spicer performs a balance beam routine during Florida's win against Auburn on Friday in the O'Connell Center.

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