Pound for pound, Missy Marlowe is the strongest gymnast on the Utah team, says strength coach Doug Graham. She needed that muscle, all the experience she's gained through the Olympics and other international work and some help from above to save her balance beam mount Saturday night.

She called upon it all.And became the first individual-event champion Utah's had since Lisa Mitzel won floor exercise in 1985 and only the second national beam champion the Utes have ever had. The first was Sue Stednitz in 1982.

"I stayed on a mount I should have never stayed on," said Marlowe, who tied for the balance-beam championship with Alabama's Gina Basile. Both totaled 9.875 to win the third of the four events contested in the NCAA individual-apparatus finals at UA's Coleman Coliseum where Alabama had won the team championship over Utah the night before.

Georgia's Hope Spivey, the all-around champion on Friday night, tied for the vault championship with Arizona's Anna Basaldua and won the floor exercise title outright with a 9.95, the night's highest total. Georgia's Kelly Macy won the uneven bars with 9.9.

Calling the mount the worst she's ever done, Marlowe said, "If that was in the practice gym, I would have fallen for sure - thank gosh for adrenalin.

"I saw the beam, and it wasn't under me, and all I could do was push with my arms and hands and hope I was within the four inches," Marlowe said.

Beam Coach Megan Marsden said, "She gave a nice push off her hands to try and move over a good foot and get on the balance beam."

"I didn't think she would be able to stay on," said head coach Greg Marsden, who was sitting in the stands in direct line with the beam and noticed Marlowe go astray on the roundoff part of the roundoff-handspring mount. "And without a big break," he marveled.

Marsden noted that balance beam was the event that once kept Marlowe off some international teams because she was inconsistent. "It's ironic," he said, that she should win her first NCAA title in that event.

"I'm glad it was beam for Megan," said Marlowe. Megan, an NCAA all-around and vault champion, was best on beam as a gymnast but was never able to win that title.

It's the first time in Megan's coaching career that one of her athletes won a title.

Marlowe also tied for third on floor exercise with 9.85.

"Now I'm in a great mood," said Marlowe, who wasn't feeling so good after the Utes took second on Friday, "and I almost feel like getting back in the gym.

"Everyone's fired up for next year already," she says.

The 1992 championships will be held in St. Paul, Minn.

Ute Kristen Kenoyer tied for fourth on uneven bars with teammate Shelly Schaerrer at 9.825, took fifth on beam at 9.775 and tied for sixth on floor at 9.825. Utah's Tracy Richard took seventh on floor at 9.8.

"I didn't feel really crisp," said Kenoyer. "I'm just glad I got through all the routines."

Richard said she had a tough time staying warm because of the finals-night slower pace, and she said her Friday routine felt better because her double-back somersault was higher.

"It's hard to come in," Schaerrer said of finals night after the emotion of team night 24 hours earlier. "The pressure's off, there's a little letdown because last night was such a big deal."

Like Marlowe, Georgia's Spivey fought through a mistake to win a title.

"I had lost my brains on floor - I didn't realize I was second up," she said. Suddenly, she was called to the floor without the proper mental preparation. "I pulled myself together," she said.

She is Georgia's first three-event titlist.

Alabama's Dee Dee Foster, last year's all-around champion and the runner-up to Spivey this season, had to scratch from the event finals - she'd qualified in all four events - after pulling tendons in her right hand on Friday night's final tumbling pass.

"I felt bad for Dee Dee," said Spivey, "but all of us have injuries."

Under a new NCAA ruling, every competitor who qualified for the Saturday-night event finals was named an All-American. In the past, gymnasts had to place in the top eight. Foster qualified for the All-America designations.

University of Arizona got its first-ever women's championship when Basuldua tied with Spivey in vault.