When the Florida gymnastics team hits the mat this weekend at the NCAA Championships, the weekend will be tinged with an aura of familiarity.
The defending national champion Gators aim to win their second title in a row, beginning with the second semifinal pairing Friday night in Birmingham. Hosted by the SEC rival Crimson Tide, the environment is familiar, as are five opponents amongst the 12 teams competing in the two semifinal groups.
“I don’t want to necessarily say it’s an advantage, but it’s nice that our athletes have already been there and they’ve already competed in that arena, so they know the visuals walking in and they know where the equipment is laid out,” Gators coach Rhonda Faehn said. “All of these little things that an athlete has to adjust to on the first practice day, those are things we will not have to adjust to. It’s just a matter of getting the body comfortable again up on that podium.”
After the success of 2013, the Gators’ desire to compete for another championship grew stronger. A 15-2 season culminated with Florida holding the No. 1 spot in the nation for the fourth time entering NCAA postseason play.
“I know they’re really excited. They cannot wait. This is what they’ve trained all year for and we’ve had a tremendous journey up to this point,” Faehn said. “Now, they just want to go out there, get started, and compete their hearts out.”
Following the semifinal sessions on Friday, the top teams will advance to the Super Six on Saturday night to crown the national champion. Florida started the NCAAs two weeks ago, posting the best score at the University Park Regional to advance to the final weekend of competition. The break was restless for fans and players alike, but the time was used wisely by the team.
“Right after we got back home from regionals, we spent a few days focusing more on individualized skills and making little corrections here and there. Building back up, we started at the end of the week on Friday and Saturday by really putting in the numbers of the routines and putting in hard landings,” Faehn said.
This weekend’s competition marks the 32nd NCAA Championship berth in program history for the Orange and Blue. The second semifinal session is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Friday, contested between Florida, Alabama, UCLA, Nebraska, Penn State, and Utah.
Saturday’s Super Six is slated for 7 p.m..