Monday, June 23, 2014

Talking with Rhonda Faehn
After being named alternate to the 1988 US Olympic Team, Rhonda Faehn continued her gymnastics career at UCLA, where her coaching career began in 1992.  After coaching at the University of Maryland and the University of Nebraska, Faehn took control of the gymnastics program at the University of Florida in 2003.  During the past 11 seasons, Faehn has created a dynasty in Gainesville.  Faehn has led the Gators to four Southeastern Conference Titles (2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013) and two consecutive NCAA Championship Titles, the first coming in 2013, and tying the University of Oklahoma for the 2014 title.  I was able to talk to Faehn about this historic season.

Double Double Gym Blog: How do you feel about being co-champions with Oklahoma?
Rhonda Faehn: It was definitely great to share the national title with the University of Oklahoma. I have tremendous respect for their gymnastics and what K.J. (Kindler, Oklaho
ma Head Coach) has done with the program. I thought both teams, Oklahoma and Florida, performed exceptionally at the championship, and they were both deserving of the title.

DDGB: This is the second consecutive championship. How does this one compare to last year?
Florida Gators
RF: It’s completely different. The entire season and the championships were completely different. Our first title that we won, the season was, I felt, very easy. It seemed as if when we went to the national championship we knew that we had an incredible chance to win, barring complete meltdown. We made it extremely challenging by having to count a fall, but we still came away with the win. This past championship there was no chance that we would be able to count a fall and win. It was a more challenging season in that we just really did not have the depth that we had the year before. With that, we had to play with our lineups more, we had to really try and rest the athletes. It was very challenging, but what was different was that at the actual championship, this year’s team performed the best that they could in every area. That was really wonderful to see because we needed to do that to be able to win.
Completely different seasons and years and championships with the same result make it absolutely incredible. I’ve heard from other teams before that have won multiple titles that every title is different, and that is very true.

DDGB: Did you know how close it was between Alabama, Oklahoma and Florida going into the last rotation?
RF: I had an idea. They show the scores on the overhead scoreboards so everybody’s looking at that, but in my head I wasn’t actually adding and counting the numbers as each one of our athletes competed. I did not know exactly where we were. In fact, I did not even know that Alabama had a mistake over on balance beam. I was solely focused on our team on floor, and it wasn’t until after Bridgey (Bridgette Caquatto) competed that Adrian (Burde, Assistant Coach) told me the score she needed for us to tie or win. I didn’t see the score come up, and I heard Adrian yell, and he came over again and said, ‘We tied!’ and I of course said, ‘What does that mean?’ Just like the year before, I always look to Adrian because he’s the numbers man and always has it running in his head so I trust what he’s going to say.

DDGB: With every success on floor this season, how comfortable were you ending your championship run on floor?
RF: I felt good about that. I thought it was a great rotation for our team. I look at floor as one of our absolute strengths throughout the season. There were only a few occasions where I felt like we completely put it together, but that was for a reason. We certainly could not put our absolute top lineup in every single competition because we didn’t have the depth. We knew that Bridgey (Caquatto) was not 100 percent prepared at all times because we had to rest her as much as we could on the pounding on her tumbling. She didn’t do any tumbling out on the floor until the week before the national championship. There were certain things we had to do to ensure they were going to be at their best at the championship. But, knowing that Bridget (Sloan) and Kytra (Hunter) had scored multiple 10s this year and Bridgey had that amazing routine going up last in the previous Super Six, which put us in a comfortable space. After I saw Claire (Boyce) lead us off with a gorgeous routine, and then Spicy (Rachel Spicer) went up second and really performed the best routine she had done since the very beginning of our season. Knowing all the pain she was in with her Achilles, I knew that the team was going to feed off of that and continue to get better. That floor rotation was a lot of fun, just as much as the year before. This year everyone just hit it “lights out” so it was great.

DDGB: When Bridgette Caquatto finished her floor routine, what was your first thought?
RF: My first thought was that I was so proud of her because she had two occasions that she was really trying to make corrections to. At the SEC Championship, she stepped out of bounds on her last pass. She was really hard on herself. Before the regional championship, we still didn’t have her do the hard landings in training and so she went a little bit hard for her last pass and then sat it down. So, with those two occasions, she was struggling with feeling the pressure and maybe doubting herself a little bit. The week before nationals, Adrian did a great job with her floor training. I spoke with her, and she said, ‘Rhonda, don’t worry. I’ll figure it out. I went a little hard. I held back here and there, but I’m ready now.’
That routine was one of the best she’s done since probably the national championship last year. I just remember her running toward the podium stairs, and I just wanted to hug her because I was just so proud of her really putting it together and knowing that it was just going to continue to build her confidence from here on out. I wasn’t thinking or concerned about the score. I was just happy that she hit that routine and that she was going to walk away feeling she did the absolute best she could.

DDGB: When the tie was announced, what were you thinking? Did you think that honoring the tie was the right decision?
RF: When the tie was announced, at first I didn’t really know what that meant because there’s never been a tie before for first place. I know that in our SEC Championship, we have the rule stated that if there’s a tie, it will not be broken. I was familiar with that, but when it comes to advancing out of regionals and the qualification round into the Super Six, the tie is always broken by adding the sixth score. In my head, I thought maybe they were going to go to the sixth score so I instantly asked Adrian to add up the sixth score and then who would win. While that was going on, Sarah Patterson from Alabama came over to me and said, ‘Congratulations on winning.’ I said, ‘What do you mean? What’s going on?’ and she said, ‘Well, they don’t break the tie. I found out the rules, and they don’t break the tie.’ That’s when I turned to the girls, and I announced that we won. We were celebrating, and I think during that time Adrian ran over to Oklahoma to let them know that they had also won because he didn’t want it to seem as though our team was celebrating and maybe they thought they lost the tie-break.
I thought it was great. I am not a proponent of breaking the tie, or extending the competition to 10 or 11 at night, or picking one athlete for an additional routine. I really think that the competition is extremely challenging and hard in the current format. It is so hard to win a championship - it needs to be honored if it’s a tie and not be broken by some other measure.

DDGB: What are your thoughts on the state of scoring in the NCAA?
RF: I think the judges have a very challenging job, and it’s always very hard for them. They try, and I think they do a great job in trying to separate the routines and trying to judge what they see in front of them. I would not want to be in their position, and I respect what they do.

DDGB: Was there any glitter hairspray used during the championship?
RF: I did not actually have to use the glitter hairspray this year. However, the girls did put it in their hair. I remember Macko (Mackenzie Caquatto) coming over to me and making the comment, ‘Do you see the glitter hairspray we put in?’
I didn’t feel the need to have to actually pump them back up because we didn’t have to count a fall anywhere or have any mistakes. It was very smooth sailing. I thought we performed, just from top to bottom, probably the best we could on every event.
But I’ll always have to have a can in my bag, just in case.

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