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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Freshman gymnast dealing with adjustment to unfamiliar settings

<p>Rhonda Faehn congratulates freshman Ericha Fassbender following her balance beam routine during Florida's 197.60-196.95 win against Georgia on Jan. 30 in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Rhonda Faehn congratulates freshman Ericha Fassbender following her balance beam routine during Florida's 197.60-196.95 win against Georgia on Jan. 30 in the O'Connell Center.

Ericha Fassbender isn’t used to being in the spotlight, but she isn’t worried.

Handling the unknown is something the freshman has become quite good at this season.

This last week was just more of the same.

The week started last Monday, Feb. 2, when freshman Kennedy Baker suffered a concussion, giving Fassbender the opportunity to compete in her first all-around competition against Arkansas.

Then came the actual meet that Friday night, when she played a huge role in Florida’s victory by actually winning the all-around title.

The days following were a whirlwind of congratulations from friends and family, and it all culminated Tuesday when Fassbender was recognized as the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week.

"I am still just in shock," Fassbender said. "It’s just so much attention that I’m not used to getting."

That’s been the theme for Fassbender’s journey this year.

As a home-schooler from Katy, Texas — a town of just over 14,000 people — coming to the 50,000 student-environment of UF wasn’t easy.

"That was a big change," Fassbender said. "I just think I put so much unwanted stress on myself just worrying about all of that."

Next came adjusting to collegiate gymnastics.

In her hometown gym, each gymnast practiced far fewer routines a week than at UF, and having some sort of error wasn’t as big of a deal.

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But Fassbender said the pace with which her Florida teammates practiced was totally new to her, and she initially struggled to grasp the level of emphasis her coaches put on every single routine.

"Here, you have to try and make the corrections really fast, every single turn, making sure each turn is perfect," Fassbender said.

Once she got a handle on that, her next goal was to break into the lineup, which she accomplished before the start of the season.

She suffered a fall in her first meet at Ball State, and scored in the 9.7-range for the first few weeks. She said she expected struggles to start, though, and she wasn’t overly disappointed with herself.

But during that same time, her freshman teammates Alex McMurtry and Baker began to burst on the scene, leaving Fassbender feeling like she wasn’t doing enough for her team.

"I will say, the first couple weeks I was like ‘Wow, they’re doing really well, I need to step up and reach the level that they’re at,’" said Fassbender.

And with those two competing at such a high level, Fassbender wasn’t able to make more than two event lineups in any of the first four meets.

But when Baker suffered her concussion, the door was opened for Fassbender, who was completely caught off guard when the coaches informed her she would be the replacement.

"When they said I was competing all-around, I was just so excited," she said. "I was like ‘Wow, this is my opportunity to show them what I have.’"

And she did, even in an event like bars which she hadn’t competed in all season. Her only experience had been an exhibition routine in the first meet, but she still scored a 9.85.

"Ericha was fantastic, I’ve never seen her that calm in a situation like that," sophomore Claire Boyce said. "I remember in the first meet that we had this season, she was a wreck, and it’s only been five meets and she’s so much better already, I can’t believe the progress."

That comes from being thrown into unknown situations time after time, and learning to simply go with whatever comes next.

Right now, her new situation is being talked about non-stop, something the freshman isn’t exactly comfortable with.

"I don’t like that kind of attention," Fassbender said. "I like to stay pretty humble."

But she’ll figure out how to deal with it. She has with everything else.

 Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24

Rhonda Faehn congratulates freshman Ericha Fassbender following her balance beam routine during Florida's 197.60-196.95 win against Georgia on Jan. 30 in the O'Connell Center.

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