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Tuesday, March 05, 2024

UF gymnastics rounding into championship form as postseason approaches

<p>Kytra Hunter performs on the uneven parallel bars during Florida's win against Missouri on Feb. 13.</p>

Kytra Hunter performs on the uneven parallel bars during Florida's win against Missouri on Feb. 13.

For gymnastics teams across the country, now is the time to kick it in gear.

In a matter of weeks, a bad competition will send you home for good this season.

If you aren’t close to peak form now, odds are you won’t be ready when it counts.

There are no such worries in Gainesville with one regular season meet remaining for No. 2 Florida.

The Gators are coming off their best road competition of the season and second highest road score in the nation this year.

Senior Kytra Hunter is as good as she has ever been at Florida, competing in every event this year while leading the nation with her all-around regional qualifying average.

Bridget Sloan’s recovery has gone better than expected.

On bars and beam — the two events she has added so far — she has scored in the 9.9s on every routine since being sidelined for nearly six weeks.

Throw in the success of Florida’s freshmen and the stability of the team’s veterans and you have a team that is nearing its potential.

Coach Rhonda Faehn believes there are still a few minor corrections to be made, but there isn’t far to go anymore.

"I would still say we’re not championship ready, that’s still four, five weeks away," Faehn said. "But we’re getting there."

Compared to its last two championship-winning seasons, she’s right — this year’s Florida team is right on pace.

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In 2013, the Gators averaged a 197.57 in their three meets leading up to the regular season-finale. In the same part of the 2014 season, Florida averaged 197.95 in the three meets.

In the last three meets of this season, Florida has averaged a 197.88, which is even more impressive given the lack of lineup consistency the group has dealt with this year.

Faehn believes if they can get that consistency, this team’s ceiling is even higher than those previous teams.

"The other (championship) teams that have been out there, they’ve had the same lineup, the same order, and we’ve basically seen everything they’re capable of," Faehn said. "I feel like no one has seen what (this team) is capable of yet."

Through each of UF’s nine meets this season, there has been at least one lineup change.

Most has been caused by numerous injuries throughout the year, and the inability to get comfortable with a lineup has been something emphasized by Faehn all season as an obstacle for the gymnasts to overcome.

Faehn said she still expects a different lineup this week — sophomore Claire Boyce is dealing with a groin injury that kept her out of the beam lineup last week, and the events Sloan can compete in are still up in the air.

Bars and beam are also two events Faehn is still looking to tweak slightly for performance purposes, but she said this week will go a long way in determining who gets to compete the rest of the way.

"Hopefully, what we put in the lineups for this Friday will be the lineups we hopefully have for the (Southeastern Conference) Championship," she said.

In other words, it’s time to earn the spot — otherwise someone else will take it.

The urgency must be there. It’s that time of the year.

Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24

Kytra Hunter performs on the uneven parallel bars during Florida's win against Missouri on Feb. 13.

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