Tom Smart, Deseret News
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Utah gymnasts kept the longest streak in collegiate gymnastics alive by qualifying for a record 38th-straight national championship. It didn't come easy though. Entering the final rotation of the night, the Utes were tied with Denver for the second and final qualifying position into the NCAA Championships.
That's when they brought on the heat. The Utes burned red hot on the vault, posting the best score by any team on the event, a 49.40. Across the floor, Denver went the other direction on the beam, scoring a 48.275 to drop all the way to fourth.
Two-time defending NCAA champion Alabama won the Tuscaloosa Regional with a 197.400, followed by Utah (196.400), Iowa State (195.400), Denver (195.275), Brigham Young (194.475) and Kent State (193.500). Alabama and Utah are now headed to the 32nd NCAA Gymnastics Championship in Los Angeles, which begins in two weeks (April 19-21).
"This is the hardest meet of the year because there is so much pressure," Marsden said. "Oregon State and Nebraska were both upset, which shows you what can happen at regionals. Even though we didn't have our best meet, we didn't count a fall, we kept battling, and when we really needed to come through, we did."
Marsden even had nice things to say about Utah's worst event of the night — the balance beam — where a 48.650 allowed Denver to pull ahead of the Utes. It was the beam that cost the Utes a shot at the Pac-12 Championships two weeks ago, but Marsden was fairly pleased with an even lower score tonight.
"We really didn't have a bad beam set tonight," he insisted, despite the score. "It was the lowest scoring event of the night overall and we felt pretty good about our routines. That's why you can't base your performance entirely on scores. It wasn't a perfect meet, but we stayed pretty relaxed and people didn't panic like they did at the Pac-12."
Heading into the final event tied with Denver at 147.000, Marsden said he was confident his team would advance because of its draw. "I felt very good because we were headed to our best event and Denver was going to the beam."
He was spot on. Tory Wilson won her 11th (of 12) vault title of the year, tying with teammate Georgia Dabritz with a score of 9.925. Mary Beth Lofgren added a 9.875 and Becky Tutka started the set with a 9.85 in her first career vault.
Prior to their explosive vault set, the Utes moved into a tie with Denver by scoring a 49.175 on the floor exercise and were paced by Nansy Damianova's meet-tying and career-tying 9.925.
The Utes started the meet on a bye before beginning their actual competition on the bars. All six Utes hit their routines, scoring a 49.175 and led by Dabritz's 9.90 and a 9.85 from Kassandra Lopez. After one rotation, Utah was tied with Denver for second place (the Pioneers scored a 49.175 on the floor). Alabama was first with a 49.35 on vault.
Scores were hard to come by on the balance beam, where the top marks came from Lopez (9.775) and Lofgren (9.825). Dabritz fell for her fifth time of the season on the beam, forcing the Utes to count a 9.65 from Breanna Hughes (who, after dismounting from the beam, spent the rest of the meet in the locker room with an allergic reaction that required medical care).
After two complete rotations, Utah (97.825) had dropped to third behind Alabama (98.725) and Denver (98.050). Iowa State closed the gap on the Utes with a 97.625 two-event score. Kent State (96.70) and BYU (96.450) were fifth and sixth.
Utah started slowly out of its bye, building enough steam as the event went on to move into a tie with Denver for second, each with a 147.00. Top performers were Wilson (9.875) and Damianova (9.925).
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