As soon as she stuck her landing on the uneven bars, Florida’s Melanie Sinclair had a feeling that something good was about to happen. The redshirt freshman from Orlando knew she had a really good score coming her way but that perfect landing had her thinking this might be the night she finally got the first 10 of her gymnastics career.
“When I hit I thought I actually have a chance to do this,” said Sinclair, whose 10 was the first for a Florida gymnast since Savannah Evans in 2004 against UCLA and the first 10 on the uneven bars since Erin Pendleton did it in 2003. Sinclair’s brilliant bars performance helped the Gators to a school-record 49.70 score on that rotation. The Gators showed why they’re ranked number one in the nation as they walloped Kentucky 197.875-194.80.
Florida’s score was the third-highest in school history and the second highest score in the nation this year.
Sinclair, who was outstanding on the beam (9.90) and bars (9.90) said she never thought she would get a ten so she was quite surprised by the big score on the bars.
“You never really believe it until you actually do it,” she said. It was the first 10 she’s ever scored in competition.
Florida Coach Rhonda Faehn says that Sinclair has the kind of talent that a 10 on the bars is possible every time out.
“I’ve said from the very beginning of the year that every time Melanie gets on the bars she is capable of scoring a 10,” said Faehn. “It was just a matter of her putting everything together and sticking the landing to get a 10.”
The meet was never in question as a Stephen C. O’Connell Center crowd of 4,025 watched the Gators put together their best performance of the year. The 10-0-1 Gators (2-0-1 Southeastern Conference) showed off their outstanding depth throughout the lineup, chalking up at least three scores of 9.90 or better in every event but the vault. Ashley Reed’s 9.95 was a career best in the vault, but Evans was the only other Gator to score at least 9.85.
“This was not our best performance on vault and that really shows that this team is really, really good,” said Faehn. “I was happy with the way they performed everywhere.”
The Gators held a slim .275 lead after their 49.150 team score on the vault but they put the meet away on the second rotation. Nicola Willis got the Gators going with a 9.925 on bars and that was followed by Samantha Lutz (9.875), Corey Hartung (9.925), Reed (9.950) and Amanda Castillo (9.90) to set the stage for Sinclair’s perfect performance. By the time the rotation was over, the Gators had a 98.850-97.675 lead, nearly insurmountable at the halfway point.
Florida followed that up with a solid 49.425 on the balance beam led by Hartung’s 9.950 and a 9.90 by Sinclair, and then the Gators turned in another powerful finish on the floor with five straight scores of 9.90 or better.
After Katie Rue started things off with a 9.850, Evans hit a 9.90 and that was followed by Reed and Castillo with 9.925s. Hartung had a brilliant floor performance for a 9.950 and Sinclair finished things off with a 9.90.
Faehn is very pleased with the way her team is finishing meets strong. The Gators have gotten in the habit of getting stronger with each rotation and that’s a sign of a maturing team.
“They have a different air about them,” said Faehn. “It’s a confidence that I haven’t seen as much in the past. This year it is overflowing, not just with confidence but with desire and hunger to do better every time we get out there. That’s what’s making them perform better each meet and knowing that tonight we went out there and did great but we could score 198.2 or 198.3 or somewhere in there if we put everything together at once and hit everything.”
Reed, who won the all-around title with a score of 39.675 (Sinclair followed at 39.400 and Castillo was at 39.375), said the Gators aren’t a complacent bunch. They know they haven’t peaked and they are aware of the flaws that can be eliminated in their routines.
“We’re working really hard on the little things that we need to improve,” said Reed. “We’re happy with where we are but we’re happy that we’re improving every meet.”
Faehn is extremely pleased with the energy and scores she’s getting from her freshmen, Sinclair and Castillo.
“It’s totally transformed this team for sure,” said Faehn. “It’s like wildfire. They have so much energy and so much enthusiasm that the rest of the team just feeds off it. It’s great because Melanie and Amanda are not afraid or embarrassed. They are going to show exactly how they feel. They wear their emotions on their sleeve and it allows the rest of the team to relax a little bit and say it’s okay if I’m excited or thrilled after a performance to jump around and cheer. Melanie and Amanda have pushed everyone out of their comfort zone to just have more fun.”
The Gators travel to LSU next week before returning home to face North Carolina State on March 2.