Angie Leonard tied for 1st
in round one Bars action.
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Kim Arnold and Karin Lichey, best friends, roommates and the nation's top two collegiate gymnasts, were nearly inseparable Thursday in the all-around at the NCAA women's gymnastics championships.
Arnold, who successfully defended her all-around title, and Lichey helped Georgia advance to Friday's team finals by winning the preliminary afternoon session with a total of 197.825. The Gym Dogs had the highest scores on vault, bars, beam and floor.
"We went for everything and put our top lineup in," Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan said. "We didn't just want to qualify, we wanted to win the session."
Defending national champion UCLA won the evening session in front of a noisy home crowd. The Bruins' score of 196.925, their highest this season, was second to Georgia overall. Florida finished third with 196.750.
"We had a fall on every event and it didn't affect them at all," UCLA coach Valorie Kondos said. "We're playing to win, but it's kind of nice knowing the lowest you can finish is sixth."
Alabama, which failed to make last year's final six, was fourth with 196.475. Utah, also out of the top six in 1997, was fifth at 196.200 and Arizona State, second to UCLA last year, was sixth at 195.450.
Preliminary scores do not carry over to Friday.
Teams failing to qualify were Brigham Young, Louisiana State, Michigan, North Carolina State, Penn State and Washington.
Arnold and Lichey, who both competed in the day session, finished 1-2 in the all-around. Arnold's score of 39.725 made her the first repeat champion since Kentucky's Jenny Hansen won three straight all-around titles from 1993-95.
"It feels good, but nothing's going to feel better than if the team wins," said Arnold, a senior from Portland, Ore., who wasn't around for Georgia's last NCAA title in 1993.
Arnold edged Lichey by .025 points. Lichey scored 39.700 and Washington's Klara Kudilkova, a senior from the Czech Republic, was third with 39.550. Florida's Betsy Hamm was fourth and UCLA's Kiralee Hayashi was fifth.
The all-around title came down to Georgia's final rotation on floor exercise, Arnold's best event. She trailed Lichey, ranked second nationally on floor, by .025 after three rotations.
Lichey, a junior from Cincinnati, went first and earned a 9.925. Arnold followed with a powerful, energetic routine to "Puttin' on the Ritz" for a 9.975.
"I didn't even see her floor score before I started. I knew we were both scoring 9.9s pretty much on everything," Arnold said. "My two best events are beam and floor. Her two best are vault and bars. We push each other."
No matter how fierce the competition between them, they still leave the gym and go back to the same house at the end of the day.
"What we do in the gym never carries over to when we come home. The most important thing is our friendship," Arnold said.
Lichey also didn't know how close the scores were. The duo tied with identical 9.95s on vault and 9.9s on beam. Lichey beat Arnold on bars - 9.925 to 9.9 before Arnold came back on floor.
"She's just had a wonderful career," Lichey said. "I'm so proud. If anybody beat me, of course, I'd want Kim to."
FL HEAD COACH JUDI MARKELL: It was a tough meet, a hard fought meet. I'm proud of our team, they hung tough. We were shaky on the balance beam but we didn't let it get to us. We started strong, but were a little weak at the end. We want to finish stronger tomorrow. Hines got the 10 on the vault and Hamm did great job for a frosh.
(Tomorrow's final) We've worked all year long for this and we're not taking anything for granted. We're already determined to do our best tomorrow. We probably need to settle down a little, we were so fired up at the beginning today.
FL JUNIOR SUSAN HINES (DEFENDING VAULT CHAMPION): It (tonight's team scoring) could have gone worse. We fought it on the beam. We'll try and work on that tomorrow. Tomorrow we need to finish strong, to finish the race. That will be the theme tomorrow.
I was not thinking about defending my (vault) title when my turn came. Our first couple scores before me were lower, so I wanted to nail two vaults, not just one. That's been my goal all year, so I just went full speed ahead. The judges were nice enough to give me a 10.
FL FRESHMAN BETSY HAMM: I didn't arrive until January. It's exciting to see how much we've improved and we keep getting a lot better. Tomorrow we want to do what we want to do and that's to hit 24 for 24.
(Arriving at Florida from high school and her club team in January) The NCAA is fun. Competing for a team is so much better than doing it for yourself. My high school prom is in May and we finish school in April so it's still a possibility (of making it).
UCLA HEAD COACH VALORIE KONDOS: It was a hard fought meet. The competition gets tougher and tougher, and you can't take anything for granted. I tell you, I'm wiped out tonight, and I don't usually get that feeling until Friday night. Tonight was hard. But true to Bruin tradition, we're starting to peak at just the right time.
(Motivating the team for tomorrow's final) Motivating the team won't be a problem at all. It'll be more important to make sure they enjoy each moment. We're thrilled to be here, competing at home, and even though the crowd wasn't huge tonight, having that support for our athletes and staff was great. I just want them to enjoy themselves tomorrow. We'll play to win, and play to have fun.
UCLA SENIOR STELLA UMEH: We came together tonight as a team, and it was great competing at home. We had a few bumps, bruises, and mishaps along the way, but we worked through the adversity.
UCLA JUNIOR KIRALEE HAYASHI: We showed up as a team and did really well with what we had. We've got to keep going, and show up well tomorrow and the next day.
UCLA FRESHMAN MOHINI BHARDWAJ: We rose to the occasion tonight and came together as a team. We want to do as well tomorrow, and the next day, at finals.
(Impression as a freshman) Competing at club, there wasn't this team atmosphere. Club isn't the same at college, here we're all striving for the same thing. I love college so much more!
UTAH HEAD COACH GREG MARSDEN: It gets tougher and tougher. There are some very good teams that aren't here (at the competition) that probably should be, and there's some good teams that were on the floor tonight that won't be here tomorrow. I've been here 23 years, and it's amazing how much has changed, especially in the last three years. There are so many good teams throughout the country now. We're just so glad to qualify for the finals.
(Difference between last year's team that failed to qualify and this year's) Last year we came so close but missed the final six. We knew we needed to kick it up a notch this year to qualify, and we got together as a group early in the year to decide how to do it. The athletes came back this fall determined not to be in the same position at the end of the year as they were last year. But this year's group is so much better than last year's and it was still so close. The level of competition just keeps going up and up and up.
(Motivating the team for tomorrow's final) I don't think any athlete came here to sit in the stands and watch. I don't think motivation will be a problem at all.
UTAH SENIOR TRACI SOMMER: It's like we started a new competitive club: college... It's tough. I'm glad our team has finished in position for the finals. We just need to start tomorrow like we finished tonight. We were strong at the end. I hope it's a good competition tomorrow night.