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Saturday, December 02, 2023
<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.

Saturday was an important step for Florida.

Obviously, the Gators needed to finish first or second to advance to the NCAA Semifinals, something they accomplished easily.

But by stepping back under the microscope, feeling the pressure and delivering, the Gators proved to themselves that they have made strides from the Southeastern Conference Championships.

From a scoring standpoint, Florida didn’t improve much — a 197.475 compared to the 197.400 the team scored in the SECs.

But scoring is typically lower in regional competition, and compared to recent UF history, Saturday was impressive.

Other than a 198.400 scored by Florida in 2013 when the university hosted the regional in Gainesville, this weekend’s regional performance was the program’s best since 2010. The championship-winning team in 2014 only managed to score a 197.050.

More than anything, though, the team showed Rhonda Faehn composure and unity throughout the competition, attributes the coach was looking for and felt weren’t quite where they needed to be two weeks ago.

"The best thing I thought they showed was togetherness on the floor," she said. "They didn’t seem rattled in any sense, we seemed completely together and focused only on what we were doing and nothing else."

That was evident after Florida’s slow start on bars, something that could have easily caused the team to get nervous right before competing on beam — the event which gave the Gators problems competing for the conference title.

But the group showed no signs of anxiety and scored a progressively higher score on each event.

While this was an important improvement for the Gators, there are more steps to be made before the team travels to Texas in two weeks for the NCAA Semifinals and potentially the Super Six competition.

There, the teams will all be capable of scoring well into the 197-range and potentially the 198-range, and there will be no room for errors.

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Any little mistake will throw the pressure right back onto Florida’s gymnasts, a pressure they have not felt all season.

This week was good, but every element of Florida’s arsenal will need to be in peak form come April 17.

"It’s totally different," Faehn said. "(Regionals) is very challenging and it’s very stressful because you don’t want your season to end right there. That’s the stressful part of that.

"But the national championship is a whole ‘nother thing."

 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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