Spectacular senior Melissa Vituj couldn't dig her team out of a deep hole.
April 16, 2004
LOS ANGELES -
For the second straight year, Utah's hopes in the Super Six were dashed on its very first event-the uneven bars. After just three competitors, two falls and a big break virtually ensured a second-straight sixth-place finish for the Utes. UCLA would win its second straight NCAA title with a 198.125. In second was Georgia (197.200), followed by Stanford and Alabama in a tie (197.125). Florida was fifth (196.800) and Utah sixth (195.775).
A disappointed Utah coach Greg Marsden explained, "When your expectations are as high as ours were, and after the first three performers, you're out of the meet, it's hard to get back up. No matter how hard the team tries to get back up, deep down inside, they know it's over."
The loss left a sour taste to an otherwise exceptional season in which the Utes went 13-1 in the regular season, beat eventual NCAA champion UCLA on its home floor, posted the best score of any team from the six regional championships and earned a position in the Super Six by clawing its way out of the toughest preliminary qualifying session on April 15.
Utah's finish didn't deter always upbeat senior Melissa Vituj from proclaiming, "I think sixth in the nation is pretty darn good." And the Utes had some pretty darn good performances this night-just not enough of them. The biggest scores came from Utah's big three: Vituj, Nicolle Ford and Annabeth Eberle. Vituj scored a 9.90 on beam, Ford a 9.90 on bars and beam and Eberle a 9.875 on vault. It was too little too late for the Utes, though.
Dominique D'Oliveira, Utah's normally steady leadoff bar worker appeared nervous from the start and a major break and a fall on her dismount put pressure on freshman Stephanie Lim, who followed. Lim, the night's chosen replacement for ill Rachel Tidd (mono), had not competed a bar routine since March 5. She gamely swung through her routine and somehow reached a handstand despite a long pause on her return to the high bar, but her 9.600, while a marked improvement over D'Oliveira's 9.050, was troubling. Then Veronique Leclerc, who placed third on the uneven bars just a year ago at the NCAA Championships, fell on her dismount and received a 9.275. Eberle responded with an exceptionally good routine that warranted just a 9.775 from the judges-perhaps in part due to her predecessors' troubles. Ditto for Vituj, who performed well and echoed Eberle's 9.775. Only Ford, who turned in her second straight magnificent bar routine of the championships, received a typical score-a 9.90. Utah's 48.325 was its second lowest event score of the year, beating only a 47.950 scored on Jan. 23 when the Utes had three falls on the bars at Brigham Young.
Utah went to its first bye, before returning on the floor exercise, where Utah started fast but stumbled late. Normally big-scoring Eberle and Vituj. Eberle slipped twice-once all the way out of bounds and down to her hand-and scored a 9.20. Vituj went out of bounds on her first pass and saw a certain big score knocked down to a 9.725. The front half of the lineup fared better. Leadoff Riffanacht powered her way to a 9.825 and Lim's tumbling helped her to a 9.80. Ford stayed on her personal tear, making it all look easy on her way to a 9.85. Gritt Hofmann had even the floor judges smiling through her upbeat Irish jig, only to receive a 9.825. In the end, the Utes scratched out a 49.075 for a three-event total of 146.625.
Utah finished its competition on the vault before heading to a bye for the final rotation. Lim did a good vault that scored a 9.825. Leclerc ended a great career with a 9.80 vault. Ford finally showed signs of her freshman status, falling on her landing and scoring a 9.30. Riffanacht, the only multi-event Ute to make it through the meet unscathed, put up a 9.80. Vituj, competing her last routine for her team (she will vie for individual honors on the floor Saturday), scored a 9.85. Eberle's big air helped her to a 9.875 and Utah finished with a 49.075 event score and 195.775 team score.