In theory, it’s perform or go home for the Gators from now until the end of the season.
While that sounds daunting, Florida doesn’t really have much to worry about this weekend.
The Gators head to Morgantown, West Virginia, for their NCAA Regional this Saturday knowing that anything short of a top-two finish will end their season.
But the odds of that actually happening are slim, and the team is viewing this weekend as merely a stepping stone to the NCAA Semifinals.
“I couldn’t honestly tell you how many regional titles we may have won in the past or what the number is,” coach Rhonda Faehn said, “because it’s simply about our athletes going out, performing incredibly well and preparing and advancing to the national championships, and preparing those lineups for advancing.”
The number of regional titles the Gators have won is 14, and in the 33-year history of NCAA women’s collegiate gymnastics, Florida has only failed to get past its regional once — 2000, when the Gators finished third.
And this year’s opponents won’t present much of a challenge.
No. 2 Florida will compete against No. 11 Stanford, No. 14 Illinois, No. 19 Arkansas, New Hampshire and host West Virginia — not exactly juggernauts.
Stanford has only scored in the 197 range twice this season, while Florida has only failed to reach that mark twice.
Illinois finally broke into the 197 category for the first time in the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago, and Arkansas has yet to score that high in a competition this year.
The Gators already defeated the Razorbacks in Fayetteville on Feb. 6 and bested them handily in the SEC Championships.
To make matters worse for the other five teams, junior Bridget Sloan will compete on floor Saturday for the first time since spraining her ankle in the same event in Florida’s season opener.
Sloan has been training on floor since the SEC Championships and Faehn said she hasn’t shown any signs of rust.
“She looks great,” she said. “She’s proven in the last two weeks that she’s more than capable of doing it, so we’re excited.”
“The first day I did tumbling it was like I didn’t miss a beat,” Sloan said. “That really does come down to my muscle memory. I have this incredible ability to not do anything for maybe a month or two at a time, and I come back and as soon as I do it once, it’s back completely.”
“I’m very eager to get out there and I’m very eager to show the world what I’ve been working on.”
With all of those things going for Florida, there really is no excuse to have anything but a top-notch result.
Sophomore Claire Boyce said the team expects nothing less this weekend.
“I feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country and if we do our best then we should be winning,” she said.
But she and Sloan both said the end result isn’t something they can think about while competing.
Instead, they need to focus exclusively on themselves, allowing the results to come as a byproduct.
“We just know that when we go into this competition, regionals, when we get there it’s just gonna be us,” Sloan said. “We always put ourselves in this little bubble. Rhonda always emphasizes that.”
“When we walk into that area, it’s just us out there.”
Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24
UF coach Rhonda Faehn (left) celebrates with Bridget Sloan during the 2015 Southeastern Conference Championships on March 21 in Duluth, Georgia.