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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
<p>Ericha Fassbender performs on the balance beam during UF's win against Georgia.</p>

Ericha Fassbender performs on the balance beam during UF's win against Georgia.

The Gators notched their first conference road win Friday night without relying on their usual stars.

No. 2 Florida (4-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) managed to handle the nerves of performing away from home, defeating No. 8 Arkansas (2-5, 1-3 SEC) in Fayetteville 197.200-195.375 in what amounted to a strange meet.

Senior Kytra Hunter struggled uncharacteristically, botching her landings on both bars and vault, and freshman Alex McMurtry only had an average performance by her lofty standards.

The situation could have been disastrous with Kennedy Baker inactive due to a concussion, but the rest of the Gator lineup stepped up to the challenge.

“It really speaks volumes about the potential of this team,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “Look at the result, and we were without Bridget Sloan, Kennedy Baker, and Kytra Hunter would tell you that her first two events were not what she would have wanted. What I loved was everyone on the team just continued to fight.”

Freshman Ericha Fassbender was one of those who seized the opportunity. The freshman made her all-around debut against the Razorbacks and managed to win the title with a 39.375, scoring no worse than a 9.800 in any event.

Possibly her most impressive performance was the 9.850 she scored on bars, an event which she had only exhibitioned in once before Friday.

“I was thrilled,” Faehn said. “She has just continued to show tremendous progression throughout the season.

“Tonight, for her to do all four events and to do it as well as she did and compete aggressively, I think that was huge for her. It will not only help her with her confidence for the rest of the season, but I think it was big for the rest of the team.”

Sophomore Claire Boyce also came up big for the Gators, putting up three scores of 9.850 or higher. It was the first time this season Boyce had started first in the bars lineup, and Faehn said the sophomore’s performance there was crucial to start the competition for Florida.

“I thought it was really important,” Faehn said. “We learned from the Alabama meet that when starting on bars on the road that it’s important to have a great start start and to be able to carry that momentum on to the rest of the meet.

“I think that everyone fed off that energy of her starting strong there and then everyone just continued on that roll.”

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Other than Hunter, McMurtry and freshman Grace McLaughlin - who made her collegiate debut on beam with a 9.775 - no other Gator gymnast scored lower than a 9.800 in the entire competition.

Arkansas held a slight lead after the first rotation, but fell out of reach after its third rotation when it suffered three falls on beam.

From there, Florida cruised to victory.

Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24

Ericha Fassbender performs on the balance beam during UF's win against Georgia.

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