Gymnastics defeats Illinois-Chicago

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The No. 2 University of Florida gymnastics team (1-0) used its highest season-opening team total to win the dual meet versus Illinois Chicago (0-1) Friday evening in front of a Stephen C. O’Connell Center crowd of 5,129. Florida turned in a total of 197.125, while Illinois-Chicago was second at 187.825. The previous season-opening best of 196.575 was turned in at the 2003 Super Six Challenge in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Gators were without Head Coach Rhonda Faehn, who gave birth to her first child, Noah Émile Bayon, Tuesday evening. Although Faehn was not in the O’Connell Center, she was still tracking her Gators. Darcie Burde, wife of UF Assistant Coach Adrian Burde, received more than 30 text messages from Faehn Friday evening as she tried to keep up with the Gators’ performances.

The team knew Faehn would miss this meet and had prepared for her absence.

“It was kind of weird not having her here. We were preparing for this moment for awhile. We as a team came to her and told her it was okay and we understood,” Amanda Castillo said. “She wanted to be here really bad but we told her, ‘No Pressure. We have it.’ She still wanted to be here. It’s her second love. She grew up in the sport and she’s the best coach.”

Florida swept the all-around competition Friday, as three Gators turned in all-around marks of 39.40 or better. Sophomore Melanie Sinclair matched her collegiate-best all-around total to claim the second title of her career. She also opened the 2007 season by winning the Super Six Challenge all-around title. Castillo was second Friday at 39.50, just off her collegiate-best of 39.55 set with her third-place finish in the

2007 NCAA Championships. Senior Nicola Willis, held back in previous seasons with various injuries, turned in a collegiate-best of 39.40 to take third in her first all-around performance since early in the 2006 campaign.

The highest event total of the night for the Gators came on bars (49.375), a score boosted by a pair of 9.925 marks by event winners Sinclair and Castillo. The mark matches Castillo’s best on the event. Castillo also shared first on floor with Willis at 9.925.

Junior Corey Hartung entered the season with 27 event titles, but Friday marked her first title on the vault. She matched her career-best of 9.90 to win the event. Four Gators shared second on vault at 9.85 – Ashley Reed, Castillo, Sinclair and Willis. Hartung also shared first on the balance beam with Sinclair at 9.875. Willis and Castillo tied for third on the event with marks of 9.80. The score was a collegiate-best for Willis, who last was part of Florida’s competitive beam lineup in 2006.

It was a good start for Florida, but Burde knows that improvements can be made to send the score higher.

“Overall I think it was a very good performance tonight,” Burde said. “There are some things to improve – better handstands, better landings. This was the start and we hope to build from it. “

Next week, three-time defending NCAA champion and current No. 1 Georgia comes to the O’Connell Center for a dual meet. Fans can pick up free admission coupons for the meet at area Wendy’s restaurants. The first 1,000 fans at the UF-UGA meet receive free “Gator Gymnastics” light-up pom poms. Meet time is set for 7 p. m. on Friday, Jan. 18.