SEATTLE — Even though they had to use two inexperienced gymnasts on uneven bars and balance beam, the University of Utah had no trouble qualifying as a team to the NCAA Gymnastics Championships later this month.
The No. 2-ranked Utes scored a 197.675 to finish first at the NCAA West Regional at the University of Washington on Saturday night. Second-place finisher Illinois upset no. 11 Auburn and Boise State, scoring 196.700 to take the second berth to the NCAA meet in Lincoln, Neb., from April 16-18.
Utah dominated the meet from the first rotation. Led by all-around winner Kristina Baskett, Ute gymnasts posted the top four scores of the night on floor exercise, the team's first event, with Baskett's 9.95 tying the career-best she set against BYU two weeks ago. Junior Annie DeLuzio also scored 9.95, followed by Kyndal Robarts and Daria Bijak, who each had 9.9.
Ute gymnasts also took top honors on three of the four individual events and swept the all-around competition. Baskett won with a 39.650, followed by Bijak with 39.550 and Jamie Deetscreek with 39.475.
Baskett nailed her one-and-a-half twisting Yurchenko vault for a 9.95, while DeLuzio scored 9.9. Deetscreek and Allison Buckley of Illinois each scored 9.95 to share the beam title. San Jose State's Thomasina Wallace won the bars title with a 9.95, just ahead of Baskett, who scored 9.925.
"We had an awesome night tonight," Baskett said. "There are so many good things, but there are so many things we can improve on. ... We know we got to get back in the gym and fix those things. We're so excited to get the ball rolling for nationals."
Utah coach Greg Marsden, who said earlier this week that he was afraid his team would be "too wired" for the competition, was pleased with Utah's composure.
"They really came in with a good attitude and they were positive and light throughout the meet," Marsden said. "I don't think I really could have asked for much more. I think this is great preparation for (NCAA) Championships. We should be able to do this. It was a great confidence builder."
But Utah had to make do without senior Nina Kim, who began feeling sick after the team flew into Seattle and reported a fever and other flu-like symptoms.
"It's kind of upsetting because it is my senior year, but I didn't have any doubt in my team," said a hoarse Kim, who is ranked No. 6 in the country in the all-around. "Our team wins and I win, so it's success no matter what."
To take Kim's place in the lineup, Marsden called on freshman Stephanie McAllister to compete on balance beam, while sophomore Jacquelyn Johnson got the nod on uneven bars. Although Johnson did a couple bars exhibitions earlier this season, neither gymnast had ever competed that event in real NCAA competition. Both hit their routines.
"It was just her turn to get up there and perform and she did, and I'm so glad she got the chance," Kim said of Johnson's bar routine.
One of Utah's highlights was Bijak's vault, a handspring front layout that the 2008 German Olympian stuck cold. But Bijak was the first Utah gymnast to vault, and the judges only gave her a 9.875.
"That's a very difficult vault. No one else that I know of in the country is competing that right now," Marsden said.Just before scores were announced in Seattle, the team learned that No. 1 Georgia, their perennial foe for the NCAA title, had won their regional with a 197.7.
"You look at the scores across the nation, we were second again, just by a little bit," Marsden said. "We know they're a great team, but we think we're an awfully good team too, and we're looking forward to having a chance to win that meet."
QUALIFIERS TO NCAA WOMEN'S GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS
April 16-18 at Nebraska
Team Regional score RQS*
Georgia 197.700 197.255
Utah 197.675 197.190
Alabama: 197.000 196.925
LSU 196.875 196.760
Oregon State 196.800 196.520
Florida 196.775 196.715
Illinois 196.700 196.015
UCLA 196.625 196...580
Oklahoma: 196.600 196.465
Arkansas 196.300 196.440
Stanford 196.200 196.825
Penn State 195.800 196.240
* -- Regional Qualifying Score
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company