Gators cruise in opener at O-Dome

Florida Gators gymnast Kytra Hunter competes in the beam against the University of Illinois-Chicago on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, in Gainesville, Fla. The Gators defeated the Flames.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 13, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 12:01 a.m.

A loud and enthusiastic O’Connell Center crowd of 4,796 turned out for the Florida gymnastics team’s home debut, and the third-ranked Gators obliged with a solid performance in an easy 196.175-191.875 win over visiting Illinois-Chicago Friday night.

Head coach Rhonda Faehn had a nice mixture of veterans and newcomers in the UF lineup for multiple events, giving fans a chance to see crowd favorites like juniors Ashanee Dickerson and Marissa King and sophomore Alaina Johnson as well as new faces like Kytra Hunter and Kiersten Wang of the Gators’ top-ranked freshman class.

“The crowd was amazing; it was just incredible,” Faehn said. “It was just a great experience, especially for our newcomers and our freshmen. At points, they were a little overwhelmed because they have never seen anything like that.”

UF, which opened with a road win over N.C. State, is now 2-0 on the season while the Flames fell to 1-1.

Hunter, the only Gator performer to compete in all four individual events, won the all-around title with a score of 38.925 despite a slip on the balance beam, UF’s next-to-last event. But she bounced back to win the floor exercise with an impressive 9.925, completing a night of dominance for the Gators while registering her second all-around win in two tries.

“I did fall on beam and I knew that I could not let my team down, so I just had to get refocused and I did an incredible floor routine,” Hunter said. “It’s just a great way to show the audience that I am mentally tough and can put things behind me.”

Dickerson got things started with a winning 9.90 on the vault, and Johnson followed by winning her second consecutive uneven bars competition, also with a winning mark of 9.90. King then stepped up to claim her second straight beam title with a career-best 9.925, doing so on the heels of Hunter’s slip, and Hunter put an exclamation point on the night with her energetic floor routine which brought the crowd to its feet.

“I was really pleased with my beam,” said King. “I’m really proud of myself for going out there and hitting that routine, even with the pressure of a fall before me. It was a great feeling.”

UF bettered its marks in the first three events — vault, bars and beam — from last week’s win, but then posted its lowest score of the night (48.525) on the floor, an event that is usually a strength.

“There were definitely some great points and some improvement,” Faehn said. “Ashanee just nailed another amazing vault. I was really pleased with bars; I thought everyone attacked the event. Beam, I was thrilled with the way they performed, especially the way Marissa just came up and attacked the beam and performed one of her best beam routines ever after a fall. That was really great to see.

“Of course I have a sour taste in my mouth from the way we finished on floor, but at the same time we knew there were risks by putting different athletes in and athletes who have never competed before or haven’t competed in a long time. Those athletes that get put in the lineup, they need to hit. But it’s a learning experience and it’s early. It’s just the second meet so there’s going to be falls and there’s going to be misses, but it’s something they have to learn from.”

UF travels to Lexington, Kentucky, for its SEC opener next Friday at 7 p.m.

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