#1 Gymnastics to compete in NCAAs

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The No. 1 University of Florida gymnastics team (21-0-1, 5-0-1 SEC) competes Thursday, April 26 in the opening session of the NCAA Championships’ team qualifying round.

Session I competition is set to begin at 3:15 p.m. (ET) in the University of Utah’s Huntsman Center.

What’s on the line Thursday? A spot in Friday’s NCAA Super Six team final, where the national team champion is determined. The top three teams from each of Thursday’s two sessions advance to the NCAA Super Six. The NCAA champion has been determined by the Super Six format since 1993. UF has advanced to the NCAA Super Six in 1994, 1997, 1998, 2004 and 2006, earning its top finish of second in the 1998 event. The Gators took fourth in the 2006 NCAA Championships held in Corvallis, Ore.

In the 25 previous NCAA Championships, only four teams have taken home the national title – UCLA, Alabama, Georgia and Utah. Georgia is the two-time defending NCAA Champion and is seeded No. 3 heading into the 2007 nationals. Florida and Utah share the top seed for the 2007 NCAA Championships, after each used team scores of 197.325 to win their regional meet titles on April 14. This is UF’s highest pre-NCAA Championships seed ever, bettering the previous high of No. 2 for the 1998 and 1984 NCAA Championships.

2007 NCAA Championships Field

The Gators posted a regular-season record of 21-0-1 in 2007, marking the team’s fifth undefeated regular-season and first since 1985. Florida claimed the 2007 Southeastern Conference team title on March 31 in North Little Rock, Ark., marking the team’s first league crown since 1989.

This is the eighth time Utah has played host to the NCAA Gymnastics Championships and the first time since 1999. UF made its first NCAA Super Six appearance in the 1994 NCAA Championships in Salt Lake City. UF’s highest NCAA finish for a national championship in Salt Lake City was third in 1985. The Gators’ final road weekend of the 2007 regular season included a dual meet at Utah on March 16 (UF won the meet 197.05-196.725).

UF gymnastics seniors (L to R) Samantha Lutz, Savannah Evans, Breanne King, Katie Rue and Chantelle Tousek pose with coach Rhonda Faehn. The recruiting class was Faehn’s first as coach of the No. 1-ranked Gators. Photo by Tim Casey

Quotes from Wednesday’s Press Conference

Florida Head Coach Rhonda Faehn

Question: ”Florida is going into this meet as the overwhelming favorite to win its first NCAA Gymnastics Championship. Is this the year that a team other than Utah, UCLA, Georgia or Alabama finally wins a title?”

Answer: “We are really excited to be here at the University of Utah. It was nice that we were out here about six ago for our dual meet competition. It’s a setting that we’re really familiar with and we had a good practice today. It is true that there have only been four schools to ever win a national title and I think this year, more than any, it is clear that more teams are getting towards that level where they can challenge for the title. And, I think that’s what makes this so exciting and so great here; there are so many powerful teams. We are trying not to focus on being the fifth team that wins. We’re just focusing on everything we’ve already done this season and then going out and competing like we have in every single meet so far, and going out and having fun while we’re doing it. Then, we hope the results will be what we want.”

Question: “What did you take from being a gymnast under Val Kondos? Do you think her success has helped you?”

Answer: “Without a doubt, I think the greatest thing I took from Valorie was she coached the person and not just the athlete. When I was under Bella and Marta Karoli, they were tremendous coaches in their own right in completely different situations. They were strictly coaching the athlete. When you go into college, all of the sudden there all these different things that happen. You have to deal with academics, a social life, and things you’ve never had before. And Miss Val communicates so well and I think it was important for me to learn that I was doing gymnastics because I loved it as opposed doing it because that what I’ve always and because my coaches pushed me to do it. So, I think that’s really helpful. Now that I’m coaching the athletes at Florida, I almost feel like their mother. I treat each and every one of them different. They are individuals and they have different needs and I love them all.”

Florida Student-Athlete Samantha Lutz

Question: “Does the fact that your team in undefeated and No. 1 put additional pressure on you?”

Answer: “I don’t think so. We’re not focusing too much on the rankings or anything that has happened so far this season. It’s a new competition and a new playing field. We have so much fun together and we like to compete together and this is one more chance for all of us to go out on stage and do what we like to do. We’re just focusing on that, on our team and everything that we’ve been working on this year.”

Courtesy UF Sports Information.