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Monday, March 04, 2024

Florida gymnastics heads to Arkansas, looks to senior for consistency

<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.

When the Gators need awe-inspiring, they rely on Kytra Hunter.

When they need energy, they look to Bridget Sloan.

But when consistency is required, they can always count on Rachel Spicer.

No. 2 Florida (3-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) travels to Fayetteville to take on No. 8 Arkansas (2-4, 1-2 SEC) tonight in search of that consistency, something it was unable to find in the chaotic environment that was Tuscaloosa, Alabama — the team’s last road meet.

To make things more difficult, the team will be without freshman Kennedy Baker, who suffered a mild concussion during training on Monday and now leaves a void in each event.

Although coach Rhonda Faehn said she hopes to see freshmen Ericha Fassbender and Grace McLaughlin help fill that role, it’s anyone’s guess how the young athletes will deal with the hostile atmosphere.

Thankfully for the Gators, they won’t need to worry about what type of performance Spicer will give them.

Throughout her career, Spicer has been a solid, hard-working performer for Florida. Even she describes herself that way.

"I think overall I’m just more of a consistent athlete and you’ll see me post very consistent scores across the board," she said.

In her sophomore year, the team honored her as the most-improved gymnast at the post-season banquet.

She came back even better the following year, competing in every vault and beam lineup that season as well as 12 competitions on floor, an event in which Faehn said Spicer shined.

But entering her senior season, the wear and tear of a collegiate gymnastics career started to take a toll.

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Throughout the 2014 season, she fought through a chronic Achilles tendon injury, and she was subsequently limited in her offseason training in an attempt to preserve her health.

"That’s why in preseason I wasn’t doing a lot of hard landings and I started doing stuff like two or three months after most girls," Spicer said.

So far this year, she has been able to compete on beam in every meet and on vault in all but the first competition, putting up repeated scores in and around the 9.8 range.

Through the first three weeks of the season, she had been unable to break into the floor lineup, but by the fourth meet against Georgia, Faehn was ready to let her give it a go.

"It was a matter of making sure that when we put her out there that she was gonna be 100 percent ready to go and to do it well," Faehn said.

Spicer said she had been asking Faehn every day if she was finally ready to get back into the lineup.

"I had been working really hard in practice, in and outside the gym, just showing her that I’m ready to compete floor," Spicer said.

Although her score was only a 9.775 — she received a 10th of a deduction for stepping outside the boundaries — she and Faehn were both satisfied with the performance.

Spicer said now that she is back in the lineup, she plans on staying there for the rest of the year - not by doing anything flashy, but by putting up solid scores for the team.

"I think I get (my) highest score on floor, but I’m known for my consistency, not so much my impressive skill level," Spicer said.

Faehn doesn’t agree with that completely, however.

"She is right, she is just steady," Faehn said. "What she does, she does well, and it’s a high difficulty, I think she’s selling herself short."

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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