Sinclair’s perfect 10 sparks UF gymnasts

Not even a perfect 10 on the uneven bars by junior Melanie Sinclair and a win over Kentucky by the gymnastics equivalent of a blowout (195.925-193.85) could gloss over the obvious for Florida’s fifth-ranked Gators. Until they eliminate those costly mistakes on the beam, which plagued them for the third straight week Friday night, they will seem like a team of under-achievers.

Sinclair’s perfect 10, the third time in her Florida career that she has notched a perfect score on the bars, got a Stephen C. O’Connell Center crowd of 8,019 off its feet on “Link to Pink” night. The first perfect 10 Sinclair ever scored on the bars was against Kentucky in 2007 and it was also on the night when the Gators raise awareness for breast cancer research.

The crowd was still buzzing over Sinclair’s feat when the mistakes started adding up on the next rotation. The Gators had two falls, a near disastrous landing and a couple of major bobbles in a rotation that scored out a very poor 48.125.

Mistakes on the beam two weeks ago nearly cost the Gators a win against Auburn and last week the Gators uncharacteristically fell three times on the beam, turning what was an almost insurmountable winning margin into a disastrous loss. In all four meets this season, the Gators have experienced at least one fall on the beam.

Senior Corey Hartung felt the ongoing problems are more mental than they are physical.

“Our bodies know what to do and we are physically able to do it every

single time,” said Hartung, who won the event with a 9.9. “We train it perfectly everyday. It is just about mentally preparing ourselves better before we compete.”

The continuing problems have Florida coach Rhonda Faehn scrambling to find solutions, trying everything from lineup changes to changes in the way the team prepares for their routines.

“Each week it’s been something different or someone different,” Faehn said. “It’s because they become a little apprehensive and they hold back. And, when you hold back, that’s when mistakes are going to happen. We really have to press on these athletes that you have to be aggressive no matter what.”

One problem for Faehn is finding a lineup she can stick with. The Gators lost junior Rebekah Zaiser for the rest of the season after she broke her foot in practice two weeks ago. Zaiser was one of Faehn’s best scorers on the beam and was usually the first to perform, setting the tone for the rest of the team.

Additionally, seven-time All-American Amanda Castillo has been battling bursitis in her right ankle and that has kept her from performing on vault and floor. Castillo had a most uncharacteristic fall on the beam Friday night.

Faehn has to get Castillo healthy. The junior from Sanford provides so much energy for the entire team and when she’s not able to perform in the all-around it affects everything from the lineup for each rotation to the high scores Castillo typically turns in.

“That’s an athlete [Castillo] that last year we depended on heavily in the all-around and now we don’t have that,” she said.

Despite Florida’s problems on the beam, the good scores on the vault and beam gave the Gators enough of a lead that they were never seriously challenged by the Wildcats. Even less than satisfactory scores on the Sinclair’s 10 was sandwiched between a pair of 9.9 efforts by Maranda Smith and Corey Hartung and that gave the Gators a comfortable working margin against a Kentucky team that had its share of struggles in every single rotation.

Sinclair had a feeling all day long that she was going to have a special night.

“I woke up this morning and I felt so good that I felt I could do anything today,” Sinclair said. “When I was warming up on bars, everything just came so fluidly. It was easy to focus on the handstands, it was easy to just take it step by step and whenever it’s like that you just have to do your thing.”

Sinclair wasn’t the only one thinking something was cooking.

“During the warm up I remember watching her and going over to her and saying, ‘That’s 10.0 material,’” Faehn said. “She did the bar routine and it was amazing. She hit every handstand. She scored a couple of 10.0’s her first year here. She’s capable of it every time she steps up.”

Sinclair’s bars routine propelled her to a score of 39.450, earning her second all-around title of the season. The Gators also got a lift from Hartung, who took second in the all-around, and Smith, who turned in a 9.95 on the vault and a 9.9 on the bars.

The Gators will have a chance to correct their woes on the beam when they take on the sixth ranked LSU Tigers at home next Friday night.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.