Melissa Vituj won the all-around, floor and bars to lead Utah to victory.
March 12, 2004
SALT LAKE CITY -
Forgive the No. 4 ranked Utah gymnasts if they were more relieved than beaming after beating No. 14 Oregon State 197.675-197.450 before a crowd of 10,613 in the Huntsman Center. After all, Utah's lead had dwindled to less than three tenths of a point entering the final rotation thanks to a substandard night on the beam. Utah's errors, coupled with a school record by OSU on its turn at beam, nearly sent the 12-1 Utes to their home loss of the season.
Ute upperclassmen Gritt Hofmann, Annabeth Eberle and Melissa Vituj put an end to the drama by taking control on the floor exercise as Utah's final three competitors of the night. Hofmann and Eberle both scored a 9.925, Vituj received a 9.95 and the Utes held on to win. Utah's 197.675, its second-best home score of the year, could advance the Utes as high as No. 2 in the nation when the new rankings come out on Monday.
Utah led by nearly half a point midway through a meet in which neither team counted a fall. However, the Utes' only fall of the night, combined with two big breaks, sent them reeling to a 49.10 on the beam-their only event score below a 49.50. Again, Vituj prevented the situation from completely deteriorating, this time by scoring a 9.95 as Utah's final competitor on the beam.
Vituj would finish the night as the all-around winner with a 39.675. She also won floor with a 9.95 and tied for first on the bars with teammates Rachel Tidd and Kristen Riffanacht, each with a 9.925.
Both teams started out strong, with Utah scoring a 49.50 on the vault and Oregon State countering with a 49.325 on the bars. Eberle, 7-0 on the vault coming into the night, saw her win streak snapped by freshman teammate Tidd, who tied her career high with a 9.975. Riffanacht's 9.925 also tied a career high.
Then came Utah's only bad event. A sub-par night left Utah clinging to a 148.125-147.850 lead after three events. Natalie Nicoloff tied her season-high on the beam as the leadoff with a 9.85, but Gabriella Onodi followed her with a fall. Riffanacht ran into trouble, as well, slapping her hand on the beam after a layout left her off balance. She was penalized with a 9.65 score. Ford shook off her teammates' woes in her return to the beam lineup, calmly walking through a 9.90 routine. Eberle then brushed with her first fall of the season after dismounting low. Her leg strength saved her from sitting down, though she lunged back and scored a 9.75. Vituj put some pizzazz into a marginal beam set at the end, scoring a 9.95.
Riffanacht returned to form on the floor exercise, starting Utah off with a 9.85. Veronique Leclerc, who scored a 10.0 on the floor in her last Huntsman Center appearance, knocked out a nice 9.875 this time. Stephanie Lim then performed a crowd-pleasing routine whose 9.875 average score caused a chorus of boos from the audience. One judge rewarded Lim with with a 9.95-the other only a 9.80-which raised the ire of the fans. Gritt Hofmann, competing in only her third routine in the last eight weeks due to injuries, did a rousing routine that received a career-tying 9.925. Eberle matched her score to finish with a 39.450 all-around tally, placing her third, and Vituj bumped Utah's final score up a notch with a 9.95.