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Utes slide in

Behind much of the day, U. pulls through at end

Published: Friday, July 3 2015 2:31 p.m. MDT

Utah's Gritt Hofmann performs her beam routine during preliminary session Thursday night.  (Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News) Utah's Gritt Hofmann performs her beam routine during preliminary session Thursday night. (Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News)
CORVALLIS, Ore. — Well, it's just the Ute way this year.
Logic would say the Utah gymnasts couldn't be themselves yet again, not at the national championships. That they couldn't fall far behind like they did in the NCAA regional two weeks ago and then still pull through.
But that's precisely what they did — led by sophomore Ashley Postell, who had Thursday afternoon's best all-around total (39.525) and qualified for Saturday's individual-event finals in all four disciplines.
Pulling themselves up from fifth place halfway through Thursday's preliminary session to a qualifying third, hitting the best event scores of the meet on both vault and bars, the Utes made it into tonight's 2006 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships Super Six finals at Oregon State University.
"I'm too old for this," said Utah's 55-year-old coach Greg Marsden of the way his cardiac kids came through once again, as they did in numerous meets in 2006. "This is about as exciting as it gets."
Ten-year-old Caili Pleshe, left, and Jake Wilkinson cheer for Utah along with a couple of hundred other Ute fans at Gymnastics Championships on Thursday.  (Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News) Ten-year-old Caili Pleshe, left, and Jake Wilkinson cheer for Utah along with a couple of hundred other Ute fans at Gymnastics Championships on Thursday. (Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News)
Nebraska came from behind to post the session's best score of 196.325, overtaking Alabama (196.25), while Utah scored 49.30 in one of its best vault competitions of the year and then tossed off 49.125 on bars to seal its ticket to tonight with 196.175. Michigan (196.00), Louisiana State (195.65) and Oklahoma (195.525) are done as teams for the season.
Michigan and LSU were each in second place at different points in the meet.
"Just the flow of the meet was incredible," said Nebraska coach Dan Kendig, whose team was third after three events.
Nebraska, Alabama and Utah will vie tonight with Georgia, Iowa State and Florida out of Thursday's evening session for the national title that has been out of Utah's grasp for 11 years now.
Utah associate gymnastics coach Megan Marsden cheers during Utah's vault routine in Thursday night's meet.  (Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News) Utah associate gymnastics coach Megan Marsden cheers during Utah's vault routine in Thursday night's meet. (Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News)
"It was a difficult session. I'm just glad we pulled through," said Postell, noting that Thursday's scores mean nothing tonight. "You basically start from zero and work your way up," she said.
Utah wasn't awful Thursday. In fact, it didn't have any falls, the way it did in barely surviving the regional two weeks ago. In fact, this was only the second meet of the season in which the Utes hit all 24 routines — no falls.
They opened on beam and did OK but then had two out-of-bounds .1 point deductions on floor to really put themselves in a bind.
"We like a challenge," Postell said, adding that the Utes somewhat prefer to be underdogs rather than trying to defend a lead. "We have no problems to move up."
Only senior Kristen Riffanacht and junior Nicolle Ford actually knew how far down they were. Marsden said he hadn't followed the scores enough to know, and most of the U. gymnasts didn't know because Ford and Riffanacht, who'd figured out the math, wouldn't tell them, even when freshman Kristina Baskett asked.
Fifth-year senior Gritt Hofmann, one of those who went out of bounds on floor — she said she'd hit a dead spot on the floor in warmups and was trying to avoid it — had one of her best vaults of the season, a 9.875 that got Utah off to its strong second-half start. Ford (9.875), Baskett (9.85) and Postell (9.90) also had big vaults, and Baskett's 9.90 on bars — best of the afternoon session — stemmed a tide of three straight scores in the 9.725-9.775 range.
"I had hope after vault," said Marsden, whose team has missed the Super Six only twice since the two-day team championship format was instituted in 1993 — the last time the championships were at Oregon State.
"We knew we had dug ourselves in a hole, and everyone else was hitting routines," Marsden said.
While the Utes' beam set produced no score higher than Postell's 9.85, Marsden's last-day insert into the lineup, senior Gabi Onodi, who fell at the regional, came back with a strong 9.80 in the second spot despite what she called a dislocated rib. "I was hurting really bad. All I could think of was the pain," she said. It hurt to breathe, so she tried to breathe as little as possible during the routine, her only appearance of the day.
"I knew we needed it, and I knew Greg was trusting me to do this routine."
After the meet, she said it was feeling better, and she'd be fine for tonight.
Utah has won 10 national team titles, though none since 1995.

NOTES: These championships will be broadcast on tape delay Saturday, May 6, at 11 a.m. MDT on CBS . . . Utah hosts the NCAA championships in 2007, April 26-28 . . . Some 300 Ute fans made the trip to Corvallis. Utah usually has the largest contingent for a team from a road school at nationals. The team T-shirt this year is gray with a red stylization of a gymnast on the front, but many fans wore crimson shirts, and some wore shirts from past championships . . . Prior to their departure for Corvallis Monday, there was discussion in the Ute gym about whether anyone could get five days' worth of needs into carry-on baggage. Associate coach Megan Marsden said she couldn't even get all of her shoes into carry-on baggage . . . One LSU fan on Thursday wore a long, gold, patterned sheet-like wrap/dress and a furry tiger nose and led cheers for her bunch, and one man was decked in purple from head to shoe.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com

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