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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
<p>Alex McMurtry performs her balance beam routine during Florida's win against Georgia on Jan. 30.</p>

Alex McMurtry performs her balance beam routine during Florida's win against Georgia on Jan. 30.

Transitioning into college is difficult for any 18-year-old student-athlete.

For a gymnast, it can be even tougher.

Most are used to competing in front of only a few hundred fans regularly, and they do so without the same team concept used in collegiate gymnastics.

"Any coach will tell you it takes quite a while for the freshmen to feel comfortable," Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said.

"You’ve gotta figure they’re coming in, it’s a brand new school, brand new coaches that they haven’t had their entire life, new teammates - it’s like new everything."

And when you’re thrown in the mix for the two-time defending national champions, it doesn’t get any easier.

But UF’s top-ranked freshman class hasn’t had any issues making the adjustment — in fact, the class’ impact has been nothing short of sensational.

"This freshman class is awesome," Faehn said. "Our freshmen are phenomenal talents."

Through five meets of the 2015 season, Florida’s four freshmen — Kennedy Baker, Alex McMurtry, Ericha Fassbender, and Grace McLaughlin — have been essential to the Gators’ success.

Before a concussion kept her out of last week’s meet at Arkansas, Baker had competed in the all-around competition in all but the first week, only scoring worse than a 9.80 once in her 15 total events.

Her best event has been floor, where she has displayed raw power and immediate comfort — she came 0.025 away from a perfect 10 against Georgia.

McMurtry has been even more impressive.

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She has competed in every event except floor and has scored at least one 9.90 or higher in each, including a perfect 10 against Auburn in just the second vault of her collegiate career.

She is also the highest scorer on the team per routine, averaging a staggering 9.88 in the 13 events she has competed in this year.

Fassbender’s transition has been a bit more traditional, but she has grown steadily as the season has progressed.

Last week at Arkansas, she made her all-around debut and won the title with a 39.375.

McLaughlin made her collegiate debut last week, replacing Baker in the beam lineup. She scored a 9.775, and Faehn said she was proud to see McLaughlin’s hard work begin to pay off.

As a whole, this class has a chance to be the most successful in Faehn’s 13 years as UF’s coach.

Faehn said this is the most impactful group of freshmen she has had since her 2004 class, her second at Florida.

That group helped guide the Gators to their first Super Six under Faehn that year, as well as two more Super Six appearances and Faehn’s first Southeastern Conference Championship in 2007.

Those are lofty comparisons, but Faehn believes this group is special — not only from a talent standpoint, but also from a character standpoint.

"It kind of reminds me of that," Faehn said of the 2004 class comparison, "that this class has so much talent and they’re just awesome girls, they’re awesome people.

I love their attitudes. Each and every one of them come in and they just want to contribute. Their sole goal is to do whatever they can to help our team be successful."

Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24

Alex McMurtry performs her balance beam routine during Florida's win against Georgia on Jan. 30.

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