CORVALLIS, Ore. Tempting fate didn't get them a championship, but the Utes put their meet in somebody else's hands and were rewarded once again Friday night in the 2006 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships at Oregon State University.
Utah went into a bye in the final rotation and expected to finish third until Alabama, once the leader in the meet, had a couple of falls on balance beam and let Utah move up to second place without moving a muscle.
Georgia, undefeated for the season, scored 48.65 on vault to run off with the meet, as expected, 197.75. Its score was .25 less than the last time the championships were held here in Gill Coliseum the Gym Dogs had 198.00 here 13 years ago, 1993, the first time there was a Super Six finals on the second night of competition.
The Utes, taking themselves out of any logical chance for a title on bars, their first event, with 48.95, then climbed through the beam (49.425), did not lose much ground on floor (49.175) and totaled 49.35 on vault to finish at 196.80.
"It's just unexpected," said Utah coach Greg Marsden, whose team has started slowly all season. "I didn't think there was any way either of them (Georgia, Alabama) could struggle like that (in their final events)."
Alabama's 48.65 on balance beam dropped the Tide into third at 196.725.
"It's kind of the story of our year," Marsden said of the comeback kids he coached, who frequently fell behind but lost only two regular-season meets and barely qualified at the regional when it survived because Auburn had two poor events to finish. "Sometimes people let us back in."
"We're really excited. We were watching (Alabama's) beam, and me and Kristen (Riffanacht) were sitting there trying to count up. We thinking yes, and Jeff (Graba, assistant coach) said no. We moved up one spot, and hopefully we can move up one more next year at home," said Ute sophomore Ashley Postell, whose 9.95 on beam tied for the highest score of the night on that event and who had finished Thursday as the NCAA all-around runner-up.
Utah hosts the 2007 championships April 26-28 of next year.
"I'm a little bit more excited than I was five minutes ago," understated junior co-captain Nicolle Ford.
"Second place. Yeah!" shouted Ute freshman Kristina Baskett, whose 9.95 vault score tied for second best of the night.
"I'm fine with it," she said of an event she led until Georgia finished up on vault and Olympian Courtney Kupets scored 9.975, highest yet of these championships in any event.
Tonight, the championships conclude with the individual-event finals. Utah's Postell, Gritt Hofmann and perhaps Nicolle Ford (who might not compete) made finals in vault and have chances to win national titles. Postell qualified for all four event finals. Baskett was the top qualifier on bars with Ford also making those finals.
Postell pulled a muscle under an armpit in bars warmups before the meet began, but she said it didn't bother her, though she fell to her knees on her dismount from bars to help put Utah in that hole. "Bars (ticked) me off," Postell said.
Following a wobble and landing steps by Nina Kim on Utah's first event, bars, Postell scored 9.20, forcing Utah to count Kim's 9.65. The Utes finished that first event with 48.95 and wound up tied with Nebraska and .025 behind Florida and Iowa State and well behind Georgia (49.475, tying its season high) and Alabama (49.375) after the first rotation.
The Utes came back on beam with 49.325 with 9.90 from Ford and the 9.95 from Postell while Gabi Onodi repeated her nice 9.80 of Thursday's round, but after two events, the Utes were third at 98.275 behind Alabama (98.775), Georgia (98.675). It turned out to be the best beam score of the night.
Utah maintained its third-place standing through floor exercise at 49.175, capped by Gritt Hofmann's 9.85 in her last-ever floor routine. The fifth-year senior was the last one competing in the rotation, so she had the attention of most of the audience and pretty well hit her routine.
"We absolutely rocked beam," said Marsden, "and got right back into the competition. There was never a quit' in any of them. I was especially proud of our seniors because they probably had career nights. Dominique (D'Oliveira) never worked bars as well as she did last night and tonight, Riffy (Kristen Riffanacht) did a great job, Gabi did a great job, and Gritt was phenomenal, as always.
"I'm happy for them and proud of everybody."
"I've been excited since my freshman year to know my senior year we host nationals," said Ford.
Postell noted Utah will lose five seniors and gain six freshmen. "We were a good team this year, but I think we'll be better next year," she said.NOTES: The regional representative for AAI, the company that has provided the championships apparatus for many years, Whitey Anson, confirmed Ute senior Gritt Hofmann's statement of Thursday that there was a dead spot in the floor near where both she and Ute freshman Kristina Baskett went out of bounds. He told U. sports information director Liz Abel that there were actually three dead spots where sections slid apart by two to three feet. Those sections were fixed after the second session Thursday. The situation was not dangerous because the springs were still there, just further apart, causing dead spots. AAI worked on the floor again prior to Friday night's championships because a clip holding the underlaying part came loose ... The NCAA gave out paperweights to fans as they came into the building Friday and distributed small backpacks to those with coupons . . . Friday's PA man announced Alabama coach Sarah Patterson as "Sarah Peterson."
Iowa State 194.725