For the first time, the state of Utah will send not one but three women's gymnastics teams to the NCAA Championships.
The defending-champion University of Utah gymnastics team, ranked No. 1 in the nation all season, will go into the NCAA finals April 19-20 at Tuscaloosa, Ala., as the second-seeded team behind Alabama, which had been ranked No. 4 but totaled 195.575 in its NCAA Central Regional meet Saturday night at Auburn to get a higher seed than the Utes based on National Qualifying Scores.Meanwhile, Utah was racking up 194.625 points to easily win the Midwest Regional in Tucson, winning every apparatus as well as the all-around title (Missy Marlowe, 39.425).
Following Utah to Tuscaloosa and making their debuts at the NCAA Championships will be Brigham Young University and Utah State University, which placed third and fifth at the Midwest Regional and wound up with the ninth- and 11th-best National Qualifying Scores, as computed by two-thirds regional score and one-third Regional Qualifying Score.
Utah State missed the 12-team final field by .1 point last year.
For Utah Staturday night, it was the sixth-highest total in school history and easily outdistanced runner-up Arizona (191.925). In third was Brigham Young (191.10), followed by Arizona State (190.75), Utah State (190.575), Nebraska (188.275) and Oklahoma (188.125).
The Utes, who flirted with the school record on bars, with 49.025, and on floor, with 48.925 (the records are 48.10 and 49.15), hit 22 of 24 routines.
Both Ute falls came on beam, and Utah was forced to count Shelly Schaerrer's 9.225 score. The fall marred an otherwise fine outing by the junior all-American, who redeemed herself on floor exercise with a school record 9.95 score.
Marlowe rode a pair of 9.9 or better scores to the all-around title, third in the U. books. Marlowe won the uneven bars with 9.925 and placed second on floor with 9.9. She stuck a 9.725 vault and a 9.875 beam.
Teammate Kristen Kenoyer stayed close to Marlowe in every event but floor, where she gathered her low score, 9.60. Kenoyer's 38.825 all-around tied her for second with Nebraska's Lisa McCrady. Despite her beam mishap, Schaerrer took fifth, 38.75.
Brigham Young, the only team besides Utah to score 48 or better on at least three events, doused its chance at a runner-up finish on beam. The Cougars counted three falls on the event and received the lowest beam score of the night (48.225). Marianne Squires tied for seventh in the all-around with 38.6.
For Utah State, which entered the meet seeded third, a sub-par night on vault and beam spelled trouble. Michele Bugbee was the top USU all-arounder (11th, 38.175).
Ute coach Greg Marsden offered no complaints about his team's effort. "We had a real good meet. We made no major mistakes besides those two falls on beam, and this was a good warmup for nationals. By no means have we peaked yet, although I'm happy where we are right now. Missy had another great meet. She's done it all year and this is another feather in her cap.
"The scores were relatively tight at this region, and Missy and everyone else here earned every tenth of a point they got," said Marsden.
Marlowe echoed Marsden's thoughts about higher scores ahead. "I don't feel like I've peaked. I didn't get any 10s, so there's room for improvement on every event. This is one long meet. I'm glad we made it through it so well," said Marlowe.
Schaerrer didn't dwell on her fall on beam after responding with a school record 9.95 floor routine. She credited Marsden with motivating her in the final event. "Greg kind of threatened me," said Schaerrer. "He said, `If you let down, I'll be very disappointed.' That was enough for me. I always do better when I feel I have to redeem myself."
BYU Coach Brad Cattermole said, "I'm happy with the score. It's a vast improvement over anything we've done in regionals in the past. We had a rough day on beam, but I'm happy with the way we came back final two events (floor, vault). Hopefully we'll peak for nationals. We still have areas we can improve on."
Utah State Coach Ray Corn said his team, which always seems to be just shy of making the finals field, "Competed as well as we possibly could. We hit 23 of 24 routines and counted no falls in our team score. without Stephanie Green (out all season), Barb Zahl (injured Monday) or Missy Edson (who withdrew from the team last week), this team did a heckuva a job. Hopefully the hard work from throughout the season and our performance tonight will pay off."