Ashley Postell's clutch beam routine saved the night for Utah.
Jan. 28, 2005
SALT LAKE CITY -
The 10,909 spectators that showed up to watch the No. 2 and 3 teams in the nation would no doubt argue they'd just seen the two best teams. Not until the final routine of this hotly contested competition did Utah pull away for a 196.875-196.525 win to knock Michigan from the ranks of the unbeaten. Utah improved to 4-0 while the Wolverines dropped to 5-1.
Just as Utah head coach Greg Marsden predicted, the outcome came down to the final competitor. Fortunately for Utah, that happened to be Gritt Hofmann, whose 9.925 on the floor exercise allowed the second crowd of over 10,000 to watch the Utes this season to breathe a sigh of relief.
Going into the final rotation, Utah led by a mere 0.025. Michigan, after its first competitor fell off the beam, proceeded to reel off a series of 9.80 scores. But Utah wasn't ready to give up without a fight on the floor. Ashley Postell, the all-around winner, gave Utah a bit of breathing room with her 9.90. But not until Annabeth Eberle and Hofmann finished with 9.925 routines did the Utes put away a Wolverine team whose final performer--Elise Ray--finished UM's night with a 9.90 on the balance beam.
For the freshman Postell, it marked her third all-around victory in four meets. Ranked No. 2 in the nation coming into the meet, Postell failed to win an individual gold for the first time all season, but her scoring line of 9.825, 9.825, 9.825 and 9.90 was good enough for a winning 39.375 all-around score. Her beam result was particularly impressive, since Eberle fell at the No. 5 position, leaving the meet virtually in the hands of the young anchor.
The meet also featured the highly-anticipated season all-around debuts of Utah's Rachel Tidd and Michigan's Ray, who have both battled injuries this season. Tidd responded with a 39.275, while Ray scored a 39.175. The duo came into the nation undefeated and ranked 1-2 on the uneven bars. They'll remain that way after tying for first on the bars with a 9.95.
Michigan drew first blood, edging Utah 49.225-49.200 on the first event. Eberle, Nicolle Ford and Hofmann all scored a 9.875 on the vault to lead the Utes, with Hofmann tying her career high. For Michigan, Ray's 9.95 gave the defending NCAA champion her seventh straight bars title, dating back to last season. She would have to share the title, however, one rotation later, when Utah's Rachel Tidd matched her score.
Behind Tidd's third uneven bars victory in as many tries (she entered the meet ranked No. 1 in the nation), Utah roared back on its second event, posting a season-best 49.50 on the bars to rally for a 98.70 two-event score. Michigan's 49.05 on the vault put the Wolverines at 98.275 at the midway point. Tidd's 9.95 tied her career high, while Dominique D'Oliveira (9.875), Eberle (9.925) and Ford (9.925) had season bests. Utah head coach Greg Marsden juggled the lineup prior to the meet, switching normal leadoff D'Oliveira with freshman Katie Kivisto. The experiment paid off. Utah had started the last two meets with a fall on the bars, but Kivisto hit a nice 9.775 set and D'Oliveira responded with her best routine of the season.
Michigan turned the tables on the next event--almost charging back into the lead. Far ahead after five competitors, UM's Ray ran into problems and scored an uncharacteristic 9.55. Though Michigan still won the rotation, 49.175-48.775, Utah maintained the lead--barely--147.475-147.450. Utah entered the meet ranked No. 1 in the nation on the beam, but was tentative from the start. Its first four competitors had no major issues but were docked sharply on the scorecard for balance checks. Things became grim when the normally steady Eberle fell, putting tremendous pressure on closer Postell. The freshman showed the strain, her difficult repertoire was still impressive and she nailed her landing for a 9.825.
Eberle made up for it on the floor exercise, when she and Hofmann sealed Utah's victory with 9.925 scores to end the meet. Eberle tied for first on vault and floor with Hofmann, and Ford shared first place with them on the vault.