DULUTH, Ga. — It was a helpless feeling for the Utah gymnasts as the first session of the NCAA semifinals wound to a close. The Utes had completed each rotation and stood in second place. There was now nothing they could do but wait and see if an opponent could mount a score good enough to catch them.
Thirty minutes later the nerves were gone, replaced by a sense of relief. Utah had survived a late push by Stanford and had held on to second place, sending the Utes to the Super Six for the 13th consecutive year.
"We knew it was a pressure cooker," said Utah coach Megan Marsden. "We had some teams behind us trying to catch us. It came down to the last routine for both teams."
But neither Stanford nor Oklahoma could muster enough points to catch the Utes. UCLA won the semifinal with 197.40 points, followed by Utah with 197.2, and Stanford with 197.125.
Oklahoma was fourth at 196.925.
The top three teams advance to the finals on Saturday at the Gwinnett Center in suburban Atlanta. The Utes raced out to a nice start with a solid performance on the floor that left them tied for second place after the first event. No one scored lower than 9.8 on the floor, with Corrie Lothrop's 9.875 the team's high mark.
The team's strongest performance came on the vault, where Stephanie McAllister (who stands second in the all-around standings) and Tory Wilson both scored 9.9s. Kailah Delaney, competing in her first national meet, tacked on a 9.95, the highest score recorded in the competition.
"We had a great vault routine," Delaney said. "Everything was building and building and we just kept going."?
The Utes were solid on the bars, with Lothrop's 9.875 leading a group that did not score less than 9.8.
The trouble came on the beam, the final piece of equipment. Kyndal Robarts had a slip, which reduced her score to 9.45, and put the pressure on Kassandra Lopez to produce a good score. A fall by Lopez, the Utes' final competitor, would have meant elimination.
"I was nervous," Lopez said. "But it was a lot of fun."
"But we all knew Kassandra would do a good job," said Lothrop. "It was a little nerve-racking, but it was definitely exciting."
Lopez, one of the team's five freshmen, calmly responded with a 9.8. That completed Utah's portion of the competition, leaving the Utes only to watch the electronic scoreboards and try to keep up with the endless possibilities. They were able to relax only when Stanford and Oklahoma were numerically eliminated.
The three teams that advanced from the first session were all from the Pac-12 conference, something each of the three coaches embraced.
"We're excited about being part of a bigger family," Marsden said "We're excited about three Pac-12 teams qualifying."
"It's cool to make it," Lopez said.
The second session was won by defending national champion Alabama, thanks to a dominant performance on the bars, the team's final event, where it had a pair of 9.9s and scored 49.4 points.
The Crimson Tide finished with 197.675 and edged Florida with 197.65 and Arkansas with 197.15, putting three Southeastern Conference teams in the final.
NCAA gymnastics Super Six
Saturday April 21st, 2 p.m.
Gwinnett Center, Duluth, Georgia
Teams: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida,
Stanford, UCLA, Utah.
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