Theresa Kulikowski scored a 10.0 in her return to the beam lineup.
April 12, 2003
SALT LAKE CITY -
The University of Utah gymnastics team is heading for a record 22nd straight NCAA Championship the old fashioned way: by consistency and teamwork. The Utes, who slid to No. 8 in the final national rankings after a season filled with inconsistent results, did not count a fall in beating No. 6 Stanford and the rest of the field at the NCAA North Central Region Championships in Salt Lake City.
Utah, which scored a 196.975, and Stanford (196.625) were the two teams to advance out of the region to the NCAA Championships in Lincoln, Neb., on Apr. 24-26. Behind them were Denver (195.350), California (195.025), Minnesota (193.125) and Brigham Young (192.400).
A crowd of 5,090 was treated to Ute winners on every event and in the all-around. Sophomore Annabeth Eberle continued her torrid sophomore season by winning the all-around with a 39.450. Dual winners for the Utes were Melissa Vituj on vault (9.90) and floor (9.925) and Theresa Kulikowski on bars (9.90) and beam (10.0).
Kulikowski brought down the house on her events, competing for the first time since Mar. 21 and without the benefit of practice. Wracked with injuries all season, the three-time NCAA champion was listed as questionable right up to the start of the meet. After missing the first three meets of the season with a dislocated rib, Kulio clawed her way back on three events, only to break her finger. She missed two of the next three meets due to the finger and a series of back injuries that has kept her off the apparatus, but for a few practice beam routines.
"Right now, she has a bulging disc, a bone chip, a developing stress fracture in one of her facet joints and a broken little finger. It's pretty amazing that, one, she was out there, and two, she did what she did," said an ecstatic Ute coach Greg Marsden. His team remains the only program in the nation to qualify for every NCAA Championship and it marks the 28th straight year he's taken the Utes to the national championship including the AIAW years.
She epitomized a great second half for the Utes, who looked a little ragged on their opening event before getting steadily stronger as the meet went on. Utah had a fall and a step out of bounds on the floor exercise, but still led after one event with a 48.925. After improving to 49.225 on vault, the Utes sat out with a bye. They came out of it blazing. Utes took the first three spots on the bars, with Kim Allan and Eberle tying for second behind Kulikowski with a 9.875. They were even better on beam, placing five gymnasts in the top six. Vituj placed second (9.95), Gritt Hofmann tied for third (9.90) and Eberle and Natalie Nicoloff tied for fifth (9.875). Nicoloff jump-started the 49.60 team effort by scoring a career-best 9.875 from her lead-off position.
"I was a little nervous after floor," admitted Marsden afterwards. "But fortunately we didn't do anything to take ourselves out of it. The team composed themselves and got stronger as the meet went on. This is a step in the right direction (though) obviously we can do a better job on floor."