Gator gymnastics advance to NCAA Super Six

The No. 4 seeded University of Florida gymnastics team advanced to Friday’s NCAA Championships Super Six competition after taking third in Thursday’s Session II of the team qualifying competition. It’s now onto the Super Six, where the NCAA team champion will be determined.

The Gators moved on to their fifth Super Six appearance after posting a 196.225 Thursday. Defending NCAA champion Georgia won the Session II competition at 197.275. Iowa State will make its first Super Six appearance after taking second at 196.25. The remaining results from Thursday’s Session II included Arizona State (195.575), Oregon State (195.15) and Arkansas (194.375).

The teams that advanced to the Super Six from Thursday’s Session I are Nebraska (196.325), Alabama (196.25) and Utah (196.175). Florida also advanced to the Super Six in 1994, ’97, ’98 and 2004, earning its top NCAA finish of second in 1998.

Florida drew the desired Olympic rotation (beginning on vault) for Friday’s Super Six. The Super Six competition begins at 10 p.m. (EDT) Friday, April 21 in Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum. The NCAA Championships will air tape-delayed on CBS on May 6 @ 1-3 p.m. (EDT).

Thursday’s focus was on advancing to the Super Six, a goal that was set a year ago when the Gators just missed advancing by taking fourth in their session. Although the Gators recorded falls on its beginning and ending events Thursday (balance beam and uneven bars), the team sharpened its focus to hit its remaining routines and not count a miss toward its team total.

“We are obviously happy that we advanced to the Super Six,” UF Head Coach Rhonda Faehn said. “Our performance tonight was not up to par, especially on bars and beam since we had falls on both events. That made the athletes a bit tight going into the later portion of those lineups. But I definitely feel like the team performed with a lot of heart tonight and did a great job as far as their energy level and enthusiasm. Tomorrow starts fresh and everybody starts anew. We have absolutely nothing to lose so we are just going to give our 100%.”

Beam was the first event for the Gators. The team showed a bit of tentativeness on the event, but five hit routines were used to compute the team’s total of 48.925. Freshman Corey Hartung matched her collegiate-best of 9.90 to lead the Gators Thursday. The beam set was opened by a pair of 9.775s from Ashley Reed and Katie Rue.

Any evidence of nerves wasn’t evident when the Gators came off of bye to floor. Two 9.90s were used toward Florida’s floor total of 49.375, as both Savannah Evans and Hartung earned the mark. For Evans, the mark was a season-best and for Hartung, it was her ninth floor mark of the season of 9.90 or above. Sophomore Tiffany Murry also posted a 9.875 in Thursday’s competition.

Florida then moved to vault, turning in a solid set for a 48.925 team total. Three Gators led the team on the event with marks of 9.80 – Reed, Rue and Murry – as all three stuck their landings. .

The uneven bars gave the Gators a bit of a scare, as the team’s second competitor (Murry) fell on her dismount. But the remainder of the Gator lineup hit their routines to ensure UF would advance to the Super Six. Junior Samantha Lutz anchored the UF lineup with a team-high 9.85, while senior Sherie Owens led off the team with a 9.825. Florida finished with an uneven bars team total of 49.00.

Lutz, who had to compete following an earlier teammate’s fall on both bars and beam Thursday, said the team didn’t let the misses impact them.

“It is really important to pick up right after those falls and get things back on track. We did a good job of that tonight,” Lutz said. “Knowing that we have been in these situations many, many times this year, we relied on that experience and the many routines that we do in practice everyday. I think we did a great job of not letting those mistakes rattle us and lose focus. We really stuck with it and kept our heads together to fight for every tenth.”

Florida picked up a total of six All-America honors Thursday and two Gators will advance to Saturday’s individual event finals. Hartung earned All-America first team honors for both balance beam and floor exercise, advancing to the finals in both events. Evans will join her in the floor final. She earned All-America second team honors for floor as a freshman and is a first-team All-American in the event in 2006. The third floor exercise All-American for Florida this season is Murry, who earned second-team honors for tying for eighth in Thursday’s Session II. Lutz picked up All-America second team honors for the uneven bars by tying for eighth in the evening session. It is the second All-America honor for Lutz, as she earned beam first-team honors in 2004.

The only championship determined Thursday was in the all-around. That title went to Georgia’s Courtney Kupets at 39.575. The Gators’ top all-arounder Thursday was Hartung, who earned All-America second-team honors after taking sixth in Session II. Sophomore Ashley Reed tied for 10th at 39.20.