GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In Thursday's semifinals of the NCAA Championships, the University of Utah women's gymnastics team scored the best balance beam total of either session.
But it was on that event where the Utes' championship hopes ended Friday.
Seniors Daria Bijak and Jamie Deetscreek, who earned All-America honors on the event, fell during their beam routines, resulting in a team score of 48.425 — a drop-off of .825 from Thursday and the worst score by any team in Friday's Super Six competition.
Despite improving their scores from Thursday on the other three events, the poor beam performance was too much for the Utes to overcome, resulting in a sixth-place finish with a score of 196.225.
UCLA might have been too good for Utah to beat even if the Utes didn't have problems on the beam. The Bruins won their sixth NCAA title with a 197.775 performance, with the next-closest team, Oklahoma, finishing .5 behind them.
"(The Bruins) came out from the beginning of the season on a mission," Utah co-head coach Greg Marsden said. "Every team goes through ups and downs throughout the course of the season, but I don't think they strayed much from that all year."
The Utes started out on the uneven bars and bettered their score from Thursday by .15, finishing with a 49.3. It was Bijak who led the way with a 9.9.
After that, though, they went over to the beam, where things went bad quickly for Bijak and the Utes.
Bijak was the fourth to compete for Utah, and after a shaky routine from Cortni Beers, the team needed good scores from the back end of the rotation so it didn't have to count her 9.65. But Bijak couldn't stay on the beam, and Deetscreek suffered her fall in the next routine.
Marsden blamed the mistakes on the gymnasts trying too hard to recreate the high scores from Thursday.
"We were just on fire on bars. I couldn't be more pleased with the way we came out," Marsden said. "To be honest, we went over to the beam and just rushed things."
The other gymnasts made sure to lift the spirits of the seniors during the team's bye after the beam and finish the meet on a good note despite already being out of championship contention barring mistakes from all the other teams.
"I know they felt bad. I know they felt it was their fault, but you can't blame one person for anything," said Kyndal Robarts, who repeated her All-America score from Thursday with another 9.9 on the beam. "They were down, but they came back strong."
After the bye, Utah looked more like the team that competed on the bars rather than the one that struggled on the beam, and it was on the two events co-head coach Megan Marsden said Thursday that the team had to improve upon — floor exercise and vault.
The Utes had their worst score of the semifinals on the floor (49.1) on Thursday, but they had no problems on the mat Friday.
Behind senior Annie Diluzio's 9.9, they put together a team score of 49.225.
Just like on the floor, Utah improved its score on the vault by .125. It went from a 49.15 Thursday up to a 49.275.
Bijak finished with the top score for the Utes on the event with a 9.925, tying her career high on vault. And Deetscreek managed to put together her second straight event score of 9.8 after the fall.
"It really took a lot from (Bijak and Deetscreek) to come back and finish strong on the last two events, which they both did," Greg Marsden said.
Despite the disappointing finish, the Utes did not let it take away from what they accomplished this season.
As the fourth-highest ranked team in its semifinal session and with LSU ranked right behind them, there was no guarantee Utah would make the Super Six for the 11th straight year.3 comments on this story
"Nobody thought we would be at nationals, let alone make it to the Super Six, so we just enjoyed the moment, enjoyed the team and went out there and had fun," DiLuzio said.
Four of the Utah gymnasts still have a chance to win a national championship, although it won't be the team title they all wanted.
Deetscreek and Robarts will compete for the individual title Saturday evening on the beam, while DiLuzio will be performing on the floor and Bijak on the bars.
The individual event finals start at 6 p.m. Saturday.