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Thursday, February 29, 2024
<p>Rhonda Faehn watches her teammates compete during Florida's win against Georgia on Jan. 30.</p>

Rhonda Faehn watches her teammates compete during Florida's win against Georgia on Jan. 30.

Rhonda Faehn is looking ahead, even though she wants her team to remain focused on the present.

With No. 4 Florida (4-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) hosting Missouri (5-3, 0-3 SEC) in the O’Connell Center tonight, the Gators are fully expected to handle their business.

UF is 14-0 all-time against Missouri, including a whopping 198.20-194.30 dual meet victory in Columbia last season.

And Missouri has been unimpressive this season - the Tigers’ season high is 195.850, nearly a full point less than the Gators lowest-scoring competition of the year against the Crimson Tide.

With that in mind, this weekend is one of the best opportunities to potentially rest some key gymnasts before the stretch run of the season.

This is the point in the year where teams hope to have some semblance of an established lineup in each event, and with that in place, they can begin to rest gymnasts here and there to keep them healthy.

But Florida hasn’t had that luxury so far this season. Numerous injuries have forced Faehn to juggle her lineups and make changes due to necessity.

"It’s definitely different this year," Faehn said. "We don’t have the capability of resting athletes or changing lineups due to our choice."

The remaining healthy gymnasts have been left to carry the load, particularly senior Kytra Hunter.

It was this time last year when Hunter was given a week off on floor, the only event she took off all season.

Now a year older, maintaining Hunter’s health is even more important, and Faehn is thinking long-term about her senior. Keeping Hunter’s legs fresh is a top priority, even at the possible expense of this week.

"That is a concern, and that’s something that I’m taking into consideration for possibly, maybe resting her this weekend," she said. "I look back at the last two years and she competed all four events almost every single meet but maybe one, and so if we can have that opportunity just to even let her rest on one, I would like to be able to take that chance."

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One of the determining factors will be freshman Kennedy Baker’s health following her concussion last week.

Faehn said Baker passed the concussion protocol and would practice fully this week, but a determination on whether she would compete Friday would be based on how Baker was feeling.

"I just wanna make sure we’re extra careful," Faehn said, adding that she wasn’t sure what Baker’s event workload would be Friday if she did feel good enough to compete.

If Baker can give it a go Friday, the likelihood that Hunter would sit out an event would substantially increase.

When all of the injured talent returns for Florida, Faehn knows how good the team will be, and she said the gymnasts know that as well.

But at the same time, she said it can make it tough to not look ahead.

"I think that’s part of the challenge, that you have to constantly stay in the present," she said. "It’s something that I tell them after every single meet."

With bigger meets ahead, though, Faehn isn’t allowed to solely focus on this week.

Her job is to make sure Florida is in the best position to win the title by season’s end.

 Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24

Rhonda Faehn watches her teammates compete during Florida's win against Georgia on Jan. 30.

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