While one chapter of the UF gymnastics team’s journey is over, the importance of the next chapter’s first few pages is surprisingly similar.
With the regular season in the books, the Gators turn to the postseason, starting with the Southeastern Conference Championships this Saturday in Duluth, Georgia. Florida enters as the top seed and will be competing against the SEC’s best — as well as the nation’s best.
“Our conference is, I feel, the strongest and most challenging in the country,” coach Rhonda Faehn said. “Nine out of the last 10 national championships were won by an SEC school, so it speaks volumes right there about how tough our conference is.”
But even though most of the same teams that will compete for the NCAA Championship will be in Duluth this weekend, don’t pencil in the same results.
In fact, of those nine national titles won by SEC schools in the last decade, four were won by a school that didn’t win the SEC title — including Florida in 2014.
In other words, if you have aspirations for an NCAA title, the SEC Championships have little to no importance.
The Gators realize this, although they still plan on having their school’s name written on the trophy this weekend.
“What happens at the SECs is not always indicative of what happens at the national championship,” Faehn said. “However, we want to go out there and we want to win the SEC Championship. We want to do our absolute best and come away with that title.”
The key part there, though, is doing their absolute best. While they hope the end result is a conference crown, the manner in which they perform is far more important for their ultimate goal.
And with Florida still trying to get lineup consistency as the climax of its story nears, this weekend serves as a crucial trial run for the national stage.
“Right now, the importance is to focus on our athletes and what they’re going to be performing and what they’re going to be doing,” Faehn said.
In Florida’s quest for a place in the history books as the only third school to ever win three or more consecutive championships, winning an SEC title isn’t a big priority.
That said, it wouldn’t be a bad side note.
“There’s no doubt we want to win the national championship,” Faehn said, “but the SEC is nice along the way, as well.”
Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24
Rhonda Faehn watches her teammates compete during Florida's win against Georgia on Jan. 30.