Freshman Nicolle Ford was sensational in a 39.625 all-around effort.
Feb. 6, 2004
SALT LAKE CITY -
The No. 4 ranked Utes ran their record to 5-0 with a 197.650-195.900 win over No. 8 Iowa before a jubilant crowd of 9,377 in the Huntsman Center. It marks the best start for the Ute gymnasts since they won their first 10 meets in 1999. Utah made sure it didn't back into its fifth straight win either: The score was its best of the year, the fourth-best in the nation this year and the sixth-best in school history.
Annabeth Eberle extended a few win streaks of her own. The junior All-American remained undefeated on the vault, improving to 5-0 by tying for first with a 9.975. She also ran her win streak to four in a row in the all-around (39.675) and on floor (9.925, tie). Her 39.675 all-around score is tied for the seventh best in school history.
Eberle's victories may be almost common place these days, but it took Utah's uncommon freshmen to put this meet out of reach. Nicolle Ford finished second in the all-around with a career-best 39.625-which is tied for ninth in the school books-and Rachel Tidd placed third with a 39.55. Ford and Tidd tied for first on the bars (9.90) and Ford won beam with a career-tying 9.925.
The Ute underclassmen, including freshman Stephanie Lim and sophomores Kristen Riffanacht, Natalie Nicoloff and Gabriella Onoi, schooled Iowa's youngsters, who seemed intimidated by the crowd. Their falls prevented the Hawkeyes from making things close as Iowa was forced to count a fall on two events.
The crisp and energetic Utes made just two mistakes all night and neither came back haunt them. Utah's only fall of the night came from an unlikely source: Senior All-American Melissa Vituj, who had never fallen off the beam in the Huntsman Center, fell from her No. 6 position. Utah's other mistake came on the vault, where a lineup mix-up resulted in a .10 team deduction for the nation's best vaulting team.
The Utes' next stop was the uneven bars, where they turned in one of their nicest sets of the year, scoring a 49.375 with three freshmen in the lineup. Two of the rookies, Tidd and Ford, were Utah's final competitors and tied for first with a 9.90. Classmate Lim justified her newly earned position as team's lead-off performer with a 9.80. Iowa won round two thanks to an impressive 49.525 set on the vault, but trailed 98.825-98.175 at the midway point.
By the time Vituj shocked herself and everyone by falling off beam, Utah had all but secured its fifth win of the season. Nicoloff opened up with a 9.80 beam routine, followed by a 9.85 by Onodi. Tidd matched Onodi on the scorecard and then Ford unleashed a beauty that sent the crowd leaping to its feet and chanting for a 10.0. Boos cascaded throughout the arena when the first judge flashed a 9.90 and they continued even after 9.95 from the second judge gave Ford a career-tying 9.925. Eberle was solid in a 9.90 routine to move Utah's event score to 49.325 and its lead to 148.150-147.275.
The lead got bigger still when Utah pulled out all the stops on the floor exercise and scored a season-high 49.50. Eberle and Vituj tied for the title with a 9.925 in a team performance so good that the Utes dropped a 9.85 score.