The Utah gymnastics team placed third at the NCAA Championships.
April 22, 2005
AUBURN, Ala. -
They don't call it the Super Six for nothing. In one of the most hotly-contested NCAA Gymnastics Championships from top to bottom, the Utah gymnastics team finished third--coming closer than anyone to breaking up a Southeast Conference party in the heart of the deep South.
Georgia, the No. 12 seed entering the championships, won the title with a 197.825. Alabama pulled ahead of Utah in the final rotation after posting the best vault score of the evening and placed second with a 197.400. Close behind in third were the Utes, whose 197.275 score is their best ever at a national championships. Utah finished ahead of two-time defending NCAA champion UCLA (197.150), Michigan (196.575) and Nebraska (196.425).
Utah coach Greg Marsden had mixed feelings after Utah recorded its best finish at the national championships since placing second in 2000. "We did a great job and certainly third is better than sixth," said Marsden. "But this is bittersweet because we all knew we could win it if it was our night. I knew it would come down to whoever did all the little things right and that was Georgia tonight. I am so proud of how my team performed though. They did everything we asked."
In an amazing show of talent, there were just three misses out of 144 total routines. None of those misses belonged to the Utes, who hit all 24 routines. Utah's fearsome foursome--the best all-around quarter in the nation--led the way, with sophomore Nicolle Ford (39.55), senior Annabeth Eberle (39.50), sophomore Rachel Tidd (39.50) and freshman Ashley Postell (39.325) putting on a show. But all nine Utes who competed took care of business. Not even the heavily partisan SEC crowd of Alabama and Georgia crowd could shake them off the apparatus.
Ironically, Ashley Postell, ranked No. 1 in the nation on the balance beam and a first-team All-American on the event, was the one whose score was dropped. There was a reason though, as Postell bruised her heel in the pre-meet beam warm-ups. She gutted it out on the first three events, where the landings were softer and the elements involved more the ball of her foot than the heel. But she favored the foot on the harder balance beam, where she was required to land on her heels, and struggled to a 9.725. Fortunately, Postell did not need to nail her routine, as she has so many times this season. Setting her up were Gabriella Onodi (9.75), Kristen Riffanacht (9.80), Rachel Tidd (9.85), Ford (9.95) and Eberle (9.90).
Utah did not begin competition until the second rotation, having drawn a bye before floor for its first rotation. The Utes would have a tough act to follow when they did hit the floor. A 10.0 on the floor by UCLA's Kristen Maloney pushed the Bruins to a huge 49.50 score. Georgia (49.35), Michigan (49.225) and Nebraska (49.00) were the other first rotation scorers. Alabama's large crowd, complete with band, was mostly quiet during the first rotation, as the Tide, like Utah were on a bye.
When Utah finally began competition, its first performer, Riffanacht, was maybe a little too excited. A step out of bounds cost her dearly as she scored a 9.65. But her teammates made sure the score didn't count in a 49.275 set. Tidd went 9.80 and Ford and Postell followed with exceptional routines that received 9.85s. Eberle and Gritt Hofmann stayed on fire on floor, as they have been the entire postseason, finishing the set with a 9.875 and 9.90 respectively.
Utah went with a slightly new look on its next event. Head coach Greg Marsden altered his vault lineup after Thursday's qualifying round, replacing Stephanie Lim with Gabriella Onodi, who had been clamoring to get back in the lineup since losing her spot on March 11. Good call coach. Onodi tied her career high with a 9.80. Freshman Jessica Duke, star struck the night before, looked like a veteran with her 9.85 routine--one that was matched a moment later by Ford. Postell and Tidd looked all but perfect and scored 9.90s. A small hop after a huge vault kept Eberle from equaling her teammates, although she scored a 9.875 to boost Utah's event score to a 49.375. Again, Utah left the floor for a bye.
After two events, UCLA and Georgia had rocketed ahead of the pack--the Bruins with a 98.950 and Georgia a 98.875. Utah was next with a 98.65, followed by Alabama (98.175), Nebraska (98.15) and Michigan (98.125). Then, during Utah's bye rotation, Georgia leapfrogged by UCLA with a 49.525 vault set and stayed ahead for good. The race for second place was on.
Utah came out of its bye aggressively, which was mostly good, but perhaps a slight detriment to its landings. Incredible up on the apparatus, every Ute but anchor Tidd had a hop or small step on her landing. Still, Utah's 49.375 bar score was tied for the best on the event. Freshmen Katie Kivisto and Duke opened the set with a pair of 9.825s, followed by 9.85s by Eberle and Postell. Ford fired out a 9.9 and Tidd was exquisite in her 9.95 routine. After three events, Utah was in third with a 148.025 score--trailing Georgia (148.45) and UCLA (148.225), and leading Alabama (147.775), Michigan (147.525) and Nebraska (147.225).
The Utes would pull past UCLA with their marvelous beam set, but couldn't hold off charging Alabama, who enjoyed the best vault scores of the night.