LINCOLN, Neb. — A Utah team that has been so consistent and so focused all season had probably its poorest meet at the wrong time, and the Utes thought that they had missed tonight's Super Six 2009 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships final round because of it.
They tied with UCLA at 196.625 for third place in Thursday evening's session at the University of Nebraska, behind Alabama (197.025) and Arkansas (196.95), and the Utes thought that they would again lose the tiebreaker, as they did to Nebraska at Florida in 1997.
The Utes, seeded second, were long-faced after finishing up on vault and certain they were out of the competition in one of their most promising seasons.
"We thought we were on the short end of it," said coach Greg Marsden.
Senior all-arounder Kristina Baskett said she and the others were in tears at seeing their well-crafted season go down the drain. "It was really emotional," she said. "My heart just sank. I couldn't even feel myself. You don't recover from that right away."
But, "somebody likes us up there," said senior all-arounder Nina Kim.
Ties are broken by adding the sixth (and usually non-counting) scores to the team total, and Utah's came up better than UCLA's, 234.65-234.575, giving the Utes a new lease on life.
"I can empathize with them," Marsden said of UCLA. He's been in that position before, after all. "It's just a helpless feeling."
"We're very grateful, very blessed," Kim said. "We feel like we needed this in a way." It will help the Utes refocus for tonight. They had not had such a meet all season.
Utah had four falls. Two of them came on balance beam, its second event, and the falls were followed by several wobbles and balance checks that meant Utah finished with its second-lowest beam score of the season, 48.775.
Utah came back with pretty good scores on floor (49.175), and then got 49.40, despite some steps on vault, mainly because Baskett scored 9.95. It was enough to get the Utes into the finals.
After Gael Mackie fell on beam, the steadiest performer in the history of Utah gymnastics, Jamie Deetscreek, came up next, and she fell, too.
That ended Deetscreek's school-record streak of 64 straight routines without a fall, which beat the old mark of 63 by Suzanne Metz.
She came back to open Utah's floor set with a strong 9.80.
The Utes will get an immediate chance to make up for Thursday night's beam woes tonight, because that's the event they'll start on. Their rotation is beam, bye, floor, vault, bye and bars.
Competing tonight with the Utes for the national championship are five Southeastern Conference teams — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida and LSU.
EARLY SESSION: Overcoming errors was also the name of the game in Thursday's afternoon session. No team got through unscathed.
Georgia got a 39.80 all-around effort from senior Courtney Kupets and a 39.50 mark from senior Tiffany Tolnay to haul the Gym Dogs into tonight's Super Six finals as the top qualifier from the early group.
Georgia started the meet with 49.225 on floor but went up from there and finished with 49.55 on beam — despite a fall by first-up Hilary Mauro — to total 197.45 and breeze into the Super Six.
Georgia has won four straight NCAA championships and has nine overall, tying Utah's nine. Utah has a 10th national championship from 1981, when it was under the auspices of the AIAW.
"The two of them were just absolutely on fire," Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan said of Kupets and Tolnay.
The Gym Dogs had suffered a fall on beam in the Southeastern Conference meet and did not come back to win. This time, it used that experience to stay in a comfortable lead. "I was thinking thank (goodness) we had that happen at SECs, and everyone here has experienced it," said Yoculan. "When somebody falls, it's tough. At SECs, we couldn't recover from it.
"You have to go through those experiences to get stronger and tougher."
Florida, fighting one injury setback after another all season, overcame falls on bars and beam and an out-of-bounds on floor to total 196.375 and move on to tonight's finals.
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"I'm almost speechless, the fact that we're sitting up here right now," said coach Rhonda Faehn. "What was unbelievable for us was how we came back to fight and rally on the bars. That was great to see."
LSU had two falls on beam and one on bars. The Tigers, however, had a 49.50 vault to help bring themselves back, and they also made tonight's finals with a 196.30.
"Well, it wasn't easy," said coach D-D Breaux. "I tell the kids all the time, 'It's the law of holes. When you find yourself in one, quit digging!' That's basically what we had to do, because we were in such a deep dark hole after balance beam, it was an uphill battle."