UF gymnasts ready for postseason

By Zac Blobner

The 2011 University of Florida gymnastics team is entering the NCAA Regional Championship in Denver this weekend as the overall No. 1 seed.

The top ranking is huge accomplishment achieved by the UF gymnasts after their spectacular season. However, head coach Rhonda Faehn and the Gator gymnasts aren’t that focused on how they enter Denver — they’re concentrating on how they leave; more specifically, being one of the top two teams out of their regional to advance to the next round.

“We’re really not looking at our ranking heading into the regional championships because it’s a great field of teams,” Faehn said. “What we have to focus on is when we step out there for practice and competition day, not who we’re competing against or what the rankings are of the teams.  It’s a matter of us focusing in on what we have to do and what we’re capable of doing, and taking it one step at a time.”

The gymnasts seem to share their coach’s thoughts on being ranked No. 1 heading into regionals.

UF sophomore Marissa King, who competed for the 2008 Great Britain Olympic team, spoke about what rankings will mean when the Gators hit the mat Saturday.

“Rankings are important but they’re not as important (as people think), because it’s about who hits and who doesn’t on the day (of competition).” King said. “It’s about focus and concentration the day of the meet.”

Faehn has been trying to create an atmosphere during practice that will prepare the Gators for the environment they will face up north.

“We’ve been focusing on presentations and landings, but more so trying to put them in pressure situations and getting them to respond to the pressure situations in a positive way,” Faehn said.

Florida freshman Mackenzie Caquatto talked about specifically what they’ve been practicing on the past two weeks.

“Physically we’ve been working on details, pointed toes, our stuck landings, just little things like that, to help us improve every tenth that we can,” Caquatto said.

Caquatto feels the Gators are also mentally prepared for this weekend.

“When we’re on the floor we don’t think about scores, or about what we’re ranked, we just go out and try and do what we know how to do,” Caquatto said.

The crowd the team is going to face this year will be extremely different then the home crowd that supported them last year at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville.  Only 50 seats of the University of Denver’s Magness Arena will be orange and blue faithful, mostly comprised of friends and family of the team.

King competed in last year’s regionals at home and understands not to expect the same embrace the team had then.

“It was great having the whole Gator Nation behind us, and this year it will be different.” King said. “I think we’ll know what to expect, and we’ve prepared ourselves for it.”

One asset this year’s squad will have as opposed to previous years is added depth with gymnasts like Dali Lemezan and Lauren Rose.  Several times during this season, Florida has had gymnasts go down, and the one’s that replaced them performed brilliantly in place of their injured teammates. 

“Last year we had depth, but this year we have even more depth, because we have more girls that are more capable of doing all four events,” King said.

Caquatto also showed confidence in her teammates and their abilities.

“If someone were to go down, we have someone that could step up and do just as well as they were going to do,” Caquatto said.

Faehn feels that the best thing about these gymnasts is that despite how hard they’re training or how much pressure one would expect them to be under, they’re still having fun with it all and enjoying what they do.

“They’re really excited,” Faehn said. “They know that they put in great practices, and that we’re prepared, and again it’s just a matter of staying focused on what we need to do and not getting caught up in little things we can’t control.”

Caquatto was all smiles as she talked about her first trip to regionals.

“I’m really excited to go compete in the NCAA’s,” Caquatto said. “It’s going to be a huge meet with a huge crowd, it’s going to be really exciting and to go out there and be with this team, which is such a great team, is going to be a lot of fun.”

This team is undoubtedly well prepared for competition and if they preform like they’ve done all year, Gator fans will have a lot to rejoice about as Nationals come to a close.  The squad of gymnasts the UF is sending to compete for a championship this year is extremely focused, and confident in themselves and each other.

They seem to have just the right mixture of talent and chemistry to finish the post-season on top.  Of course only time will tell, but when the clock strikes midnight, I see an NCAA championship.

The Gators are part of the North Central Region along with #12 Arkansas, #13 Boise State, # 19 Denver, #20 Arizona, and # 27 BYU.  Regional competition begins Saturday at 8 p.m. at the University of Denver’s Magness Arena.  The top two out of the region advance to the next round of the NCAA championships on April 15.  The top 6 teams from there go on to compete in the Super Six on April 16 for the National Championship.