By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
Cartell: Florida Gymnastics Knows The Power of Four
SEC Gymnastics Championship Central
DULUTH, Ga. – Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn leads her top-ranked Gator gymnastics team into this weekend’s Southeastern Conference Championships at the Arena at Gwinnett Center seeking their second league title in the last three years.
Faehn sat down with the SEC Digital Network on Thursday to share insight on her own team and preview the upcoming SEC Championships.
SEC Digital Network: What are your overall thoughts on your team heading into this Saturday’s SEC Championship?
“I feel our team is in a really good place right now. They’re really excited and they are well prepared. For the most part, we are very healthy for this point in the season, so I’m happy about where we are right now.”
SEC Digital Network: Five of the nation’s top-10 teams are among the seven-team field here at the SEC Gymnastics Championships. Just how challenging is this meet?
“It’s incredibly challenging. I think from top to bottom, we are the toughest conference in the country. With that comes an amazing opportunity and experience for all of us, not just our team, but in general. It puts our athletes out there in a high-pressure situation and brings them to another level. They have to step up and perform at that type of level.”
SEC Digital Network: Your team features four of the nation’s top-16 all-arounders. How much have they meant to your team and its success?
“I don’t always like to focus the most attention on our athletes who are doing four events because it takes every single athlete out there, including our event specialists. But speaking of those four, they’re all really incredibly talented athletes. At any given time, in any competition, any of the four all-arounders could not only win the all-around, but also any event. It’s just whoever happens to be on more than the other. It’s exciting; they help to push one another. They help balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses; it’s a good mix.”
SEC Digital Network: Who are some of the athletes you’re really expecting to step up big for your team at the SEC and NCAA meets?
“I think we’re really looking at Ashanee [Dickerson] and Marissa [King]. This year, Marissa has really stepped up in more of a leadership. She has gained so much confidence and maturity in the last few years. Ashanee is just as solid as a rock. Kytra Hunter, coming in as a freshman, has been one of our most dynamic performers; she combines difficulty with grace and finesse. Those athletes have been incredibly integral to our success this season. I am really looking at our starters – those athletes that lead us off on each event – to set the tone for the entire competition. That is Randy [Stageberg] on beam, Amy [Ferguson] on floor, Nicole [Ellis] on bars and Rachel [Spicer] on vault. That is a very important role as well.”
SEC Digital Network: What will your team have to do in order to come away with a championship this weekend?
“Of course, because all of the teams are quite strong, we will have to go in there, with whatever draw we end up with, start the meet with a tremendous amount of energy and carry it all the way to the end. We need to be nice, clean and consistent like we know we are capable of. We need to stick our vault landings. If we do all of those things, hopefully it puts us in the place we want to be.”
SEC Digital Network: How does the SEC Championships help prepare your team for the NCAA Regional and Championship meets?
“It absolutely is an amazing situation and experience for our athletes, especially for our younger athletes that haven’t been in this type of situation. It is our first competition this season on podium, which is incredibly exciting because that’s what we’ll be competing on at the NCAA Championships. I believe it gives our conference a little bit of an advantage. It prepares the athletes a little bit better. It showcases the athlete and is quite an experience for everyone. I know that our athletes are very excited to get out there; this is what we have been waiting for all season. We have been building up to SECs, regionals and nationals. We’re pumped and ready to get started.”
SEC Digital Network: What is different about competing on a podium and how is it a challenge for the athletes?
“Because it’s on an elevated surface – it’s built up on a wood surface – the equipment is just a little bit bouncier. The athletes have the practice day to compete on that, so it’s just a matter of being comfortable with the equipment in the arena. They really have to feel comfortable being up there and getting their cues. Your team is not right there with you on the surface, we’re down in a corral. It’s important that the athlete competing is able to stay focused and know they have to do the job up there. The team is cheering more from a distance. They have to be really focused and feed off of their energy more so than relying on their team, which is what it’s been like all season long, so it’s a little bit of an adjustment. Coaches also cannot be up there except for a safety spot on bars or something like that, so it’s a little bit different. Most of them have never had any issues with it.”