UF gymnastics holds off Oklahoma

Florida's Amanda Castillo celebrates with her teammates after scoring a 9.90 on the balance beam competition against Oklahoma at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Friday.

AARON DAYE/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 12:06 a.m.

Its not quite a rivalry, but it feels like one.

In the afterglow of a battle in Miami, where Florida defeated Oklahoma to be crowned college football’s national champions, the two schools met once again Friday night. This time, the battle was moved to the O’Connell Center, from the turf to the mat, from the goal post to the uneven bars.

The Gators (1-0) defeated the Sooners 196.500 to 195.075 in the season opener.

Melanie Sinclair led the way for Florida with first-place finishes on both the vault and bars with scores of 9.900 on each event. The 4-foot-11 junior from Orlando also had the highest all-around mark of 39.425 and finished with a 9.80 score on the beam which was won by the Gators’ Amanda Castillo. Senior and nine-time All-American Corey Hartung finished second all-around with a total of 39.375.

Florida placed first in every event, which, according to head coach Rhonda Faehn, is a plus but not as important as it may seem.

“We don’t necessarily look at the score but it is great when we win all the events,” Faehn said. “The girls love to get the chance to win a place on the awards stand, but the main focus is always the final score.”

Florida also won each event as a team by scores of 49.125 to 48.925 on vault, 48.950 to 48.725 on bars, 49.250 to 48.925 on beam, and 49.175 to 48.500 on floor.

“Melanie (Sinclair) did a phenomenal job. She made a small mistake on floor but we are not concerned about that at this point, especially the way she finished overall,” Faehn said.

Faehn also noted the impressive performance by junior Rebekah Zaiser, who led off the meet with an impressive 9.825 on beam.

“She did a wonderful job leading off,” Faehn said. “I thought she nailed it.”

Florida’s victory also featured the debut of two freshman, Elizabeth Mahlich and Amy Ferguson. Mahlich had a score of 9.825 on bars and 9.675 on floor and Ferguson pulled off a 9.750 on floor.

“It was amazing,” Ferguson said. “Words cannot describe the feeling. I just fed off of the crowd and wanted to show off my performance to them to the best of my ability.”

Faehn said she’s expecting her more experienced gymnasts to help the newcomers adjust to competition at the collegiate level.

“It is really up to these upperclassmen to guide these freshman through the beginning of this season and to help get them more used to the competition,” Faehn said.

According to Sinclair, the Gators were not overwhelmed by any amount of hype that may have been associated with their football team’s triumph in Miami a night earlier.

“It wasn’t really a factor,” Sinclair said.

Added Castillo: “The only effect may have been that we were feeding off of it a bit, but it certainly wasn’t too big of a deal.”

Oklahoma (0-1) is now 2-11 all time versus Florida. The last time the Sooners had a victory over the Gators was in 2002, which was the only season that the Gators failed to make the national championships over the last 27 years.

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