USAF ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force women's gymnastics team kicked off the 2017 season with an impressive 190.875-184.750 victory over Winona State on Saturday, Jan. 7, at the Academy. In front of a packed house at Cadet West Gym, the Falcons claimed three event titles and nine podium finishes.
The Falcons' team tally of 190.875 marked the squad's highest season-opening score since 2013, while the victory marked the first time since 2014 that Air Force earned a win during the first meet of a new campaign. It was also the first time since that year that Air Force posted a victory in its home opener.
Air Force got off to a strong start, as first-year gymnasts paced the squad to a sweep of the podium finishes in the first two events. Freshman Anna Salamone recorded a debut score of 9.750 to lead the Falcons on the vault, while sophomore Analise Howard, who missed last season with injury, nabbed a 9.775 to take first on the uneven bars.
Salamone was joined on the vault podium by senior co-captain Kara Witgen and sophomore Mariana Murphy, who finished second (9.725) and third (career-best 9.675), respectively, in their season debuts. Murphy, who won the all-around with a debut score of 38.350 and was the Falcons' top finisher on the balance beam (third, 9.550), also earned a podium finish on the uneven bars, as she (third, 9.650) and classmate Brittney Reed (second 9.700) joined Howard among that event's top three.
Junior Casey Bell closed out the night with a career-best tally of 9.825 to win the floor exercise and lead Air Force to a one-two punch on that event, as Witgen earned a 9.800 to finish second.
In addition to the Falcons' podium finishers, the team accounted for several other placements within the top half of the dual-meet field. Bell added a fourth-place tie on the vault (9.475) and a sixth-place finish on the uneven bars (9.350), while Howard claimed a sixth-place finish on the balance beam (9.450). Junior Chelsea Grimison tied for fourth on that event (9.500), while senior co-captain Darby Germain rounded out the Falcons' top-six finishers with a fourth-place score of 9.675 on the floor exercise.
As a team, Air Force out-scored the visiting Warriors on the vault (47.975-46.750), uneven bars (47.950-43.000) and floor exercise (47.850-47.475).
The Falcons return to action next Saturday (Jan. 14), when they travel to Denver, Colo., for a quadrangular meet with Arizona State, Texas Woman's University and the 14th-ranked Pioneers.