Utes slide in

Behind much of the day, U. pulls through at end

Published: Friday, April 21 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Well, it's just the Ute way this year.

Logic would say the Utah gymnasts couldn't be themselves yet again, not at the national championships. That they couldn't fall far behind like they did in the NCAA regional two weeks ago and then still pull through.

But that's precisely what they did — led by sophomore Ashley Postell, who had Thursday afternoon's best all-around total (39.525) and qualified for Saturday's individual-event finals in all four disciplines.

Pulling themselves up from fifth place halfway through Thursday's preliminary session to a qualifying third, hitting the best event scores of the meet on both vault and bars, the Utes made it into tonight's 2006 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships Super Six finals at Oregon State University.

"I'm too old for this," said Utah's 55-year-old coach Greg Marsden of the way his cardiac kids came through once again, as they did in numerous meets in 2006. "This is about as exciting as it gets."

Nebraska came from behind to post the session's best score of 196.325, overtaking Alabama (196.25), while Utah scored 49.30 in one of its best vault competitions of the year and then tossed off 49.125 on bars to seal its ticket to tonight with 196.175. Michigan (196.00), Louisiana State (195.65) and Oklahoma (195.525) are done as teams for the season.

Michigan and LSU were each in second place at different points in the meet.

"Just the flow of the meet was incredible," said Nebraska coach Dan Kendig, whose team was third after three events.

Nebraska, Alabama and Utah will vie tonight with Georgia, Iowa State and Florida out of Thursday's evening session for the national title that has been out of Utah's grasp for 11 years now.

"It was a difficult session. I'm just glad we pulled through," said Postell, noting that Thursday's scores mean nothing tonight. "You basically start from zero and work your way up," she said.

Utah wasn't awful Thursday. In fact, it didn't have any falls, the way it did in barely surviving the regional two weeks ago. In fact, this was only the second meet of the season in which the Utes hit all 24 routines — no falls.

They opened on beam and did OK but then had two out-of-bounds .1 point deductions on floor to really put themselves in a bind.

"We like a challenge," Postell said, adding that the Utes somewhat prefer to be underdogs rather than trying to defend a lead. "We have no problems to move up."

Only senior Kristen Riffanacht and junior Nicolle Ford actually knew how far down they were. Marsden said he hadn't followed the scores enough to know, and most of the U. gymnasts didn't know because Ford and Riffanacht, who'd figured out the math, wouldn't tell them, even when freshman Kristina Baskett asked.

Fifth-year senior Gritt Hofmann, one of those who went out of bounds on floor — she said she'd hit a dead spot on the floor in warmups and was trying to avoid it — had one of her best vaults of the season, a 9.875 that got Utah off to its strong second-half start. Ford (9.875), Baskett (9.85) and Postell (9.90) also had big vaults, and Baskett's 9.90 on bars — best of the afternoon session — stemmed a tide of three straight scores in the 9.725-9.775 range.

"I had hope after vault," said Marsden, whose team has missed the Super Six only twice since the two-day team championship format was instituted in 1993 — the last time the championships were at Oregon State.

"We knew we had dug ourselves in a hole, and everyone else was hitting routines," Marsden said.

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