Opening statement


Published: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 3:19 a.m.
It was a night of new beginnings for Florida's gymnastics team. A new season. New routines. And some new faces.
It all added up to a pretty special season opener for the sixth-ranked Gators.
Florida used impressive debuts from Corey Hartung and Nicola Willis to defeat Illinois 195.900 to 190.800 before a crowd of 3,369 Friday night in the O'Connell Center.
It was the third highest season-opening score for Florida. Junior Savannah Evans believes it was the perfect starting point for the new season.
"Last year we had five falls in our first meet," Evans said. "This year we hit all of our routines. It's a predictor of what's to come."
The debuts of Hartung and Willis showed that Florida's future is full of potential.
Hartung, a freshman from Irwin, Pa., won the all-around with a 38.975. She became the first Florida freshman to win an all-around title in her first meet since Melissa Miller in 1986.
"I didn't expect that," Hartung said. Her coach did. "I kind of expected that out of her because she's a beautiful gymnast," Rhonda Faehn said.
Willis, meanwhile, finished second in the all-around with a 38.925. Willis, a former member of the Great Britain National Team, sat out her freshman year last season after undergoing shoulder and foot surgeries. She made a strong return Friday.
"You obviously don't become an Olympian without having that inner fight and competitiveness," Faehn said. "You saw that tonight."
Willis' Florida debut reached a crescendo when she brought the O'Connell Center crowd to their feet during her floor routine. Willis performed what was believed to be the first double layout in school history to earn a 9.875 and a share of the floor title with teammate Tiffany Murry.
"Last year I had a lot of injuries but my teammates always stayed behind me," Willis said. "Tonight was a lot of fun."
Murry was another bright spot for the Gators. The sophomore won the vault title with a 9.875 and shared the floor title with Willis. Murry also scored a 9.800 on bars.
"Last year she struggled early in the season," Faehn said. "Here she came out and nailed every routine. I was proud of her."
Florida junior Samantha Lutz, last year's NCAA Southeast Region bars champion, captured that event again Friday with a 9.850.
The Gators scored 49.050 on vault, 49.000 on bars, 48.775 on beam and 49.075 on floor. The scores were a pleasant surprise for a team implementing new and more difficult routines into their repertoire this year.
"It's a relief," Evans said. "Everybody hit their routines. It was an amazing experience."
Added Faehn: "I was very pleased with their performance tonight. We hit every goal we set out for tonight."

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