Gym-dandy home opener

Freshmen sparkle in the Gators' victory over LSU.


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Output:RCLR:sp 1-16 gymnastics

Florida's Erinn Dooley performs on the balance beam in Friday's dual meet against Louisiana State. The No. 8 Gators beat the No. 16 Tigers, and the team's 197.90 overall score was the fifth best in school history.

LARA NEEL/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 17, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 17, 2004 at 12:42 a.m.

The smiles and hugs were flying all around the O'Connell Center Friday night. From freshmen Samantha Lutz and Breanne King to junior Orley Szmuch, the eighth-ranked Gators' gymnastics team was overjoyed in its 2004 home opener against No. 16 Louisiana State.

They performed like it, too.

Behind a splendid showing from five Florida freshmen, the Gators defeated No. 16LSU 197.90 to 195.30.

Florida's score was the fifth best in school history and this was the earliest in a season the Gators had gone over 197. It was an improvement over last week's score of 195.95, which gave Florida a second-place finish at the Super Six Challenge in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

"This was just amazing," said Lutz, who had a 9.875 on the floor and a 9.750 on the vault in her first home meet as a Gator. "The excitement and energy was unlike anything I had seen before in club (competition)."

Szmuch dazzled the crowd of 3,803 by winning the all-around with a score of 39.550. Szmuch's 9.875 score on the floor was the highlight of the evening and the top score in that event.

The Gators improved on the vault, bars and floor from their season-opening performance last weekend at the Super Six. The gymnasts said being at home and having a strong week of practice accounted for the improvement.

"I'm really excited with this performance," Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said. "They seemed really calm and they competed with a calm confidence out there."

LSU sophomore April Burkholder won the vault with a score of 9.925, followed by Szmuch's 9.875. Florida junior Erinn Dooley and King tied for third at 9.850.

While Burkholder took the vault, a pair of Gators came away with first-place finishes in the bars and beam.

Florida senior Erin Pendleton won the bars with a season-best 9.925, while junior Kristen Stucky won the beam with a 9.925. The Gators took second and third on the beam as King scored a 9.900 and freshman Katie Rue and Szmuch each scored a 9.875.

"Not only did our freshmen perform, but it was a wonderful blend with our upperclassmen," Faehn said.

King followed Szmuch's all-around title with a second-place score of 39.475. That score was an improvement from her 39.225 last weekend. King said her team was more confident following last week's season-opener.

"After having one competition, everyone is much more comfortable now," King said. "With the home crowd behind you, that definitely helped."

Lutz said the Gators fixed a few mistakes made last week at Alabama and performed Friday the way they expected.

"We had mistakes last week and we got back and cleaned things up in the gym this week," Lutz said. "We're a team that's going to be in that 197 range."

While Lutz, King and Rue enjoyed their first meet in front of the home crowd, they were joined by two other freshmen - Savannah Evans and Chantelle Tousek - in helping the Gators to victory.

Evans recorded a 9.775 on the floor while Tousek scored a 9.775 on the vault. Combined, it wasn't a bad contribution for five gymnasts making their Florida home debuts.

"I was very pleased (with the freshmen)," Faehn said. "What we recruited were gymnasts who competed at a high level in high school. And that showed tonight."

You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or at zimmerb@gvillesun.com.

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