Nineteen-eighty nine is the year that big tricks became consistent and the University of Utah just didn't have it. The Utes fell to their lowest finish in 12 years Friday night at Georgia Coliseum. Utah placed fifth.
That came despite the highest score Utah - which was never lower than second for nine years - has ever posted in an NCAA women's gymnastics championships, 190.10. Its previous high was 190.05 last year, and the last time it placed that low was 1978, when it was sixth."We were lackluster in every event," said Utah Coach Greg Marsden. "It wasn't a horrible night; it just wasn't what we were capable of."
Georgia, in its home gym, came from behind to win by .05 - the closest finish ever - over favored UCLA, partly because of .3 worth of deductions against Bruin Jill Andrews, who lost .1 for an out of bounds on floor exercise and .2 on uneven bars because she had too many tricks on one bar.
UCLA Coach Jerry Tomlinson said the deduction is in the rules, but it had never been called against Andrews before. Marsden said gymnasts can't do more than five tricks on one bar and that coaches were specifically warned in their meeting this week that a deduction would be made in that instance.
Defending champion Alabama overcame major injury problems to place third at 192.10, and Nebraska was fourth at 190.80, .6 ahead of Utah.
Georgia and UCLA are the big-trick, all-out style teams, while others are more conservative. Between them, the two top teams totaled four 9.9 scores; UCLA's Kim Hamilton had two, Georgia all-around winner Corinne Wright (38.90) had one on floor and Georgia's Lucy Wener had one on bars.
Wright said the "Gym Dogs" had fallen to an 11th-place ranking nationally about a month ago, and that woke them up. "We turned it around at Utah State," she said, referring to a meet in Logan. "Ever since then, it's been uphill."
"Dropping to 11th was a rude awakening," said Coach Suzanne Yoculan, noting her team was only third in the Southeast Conference meet a few weeks ago.
"We kept pulling everything we could out of the kids. I feel like a dentist," Yoculan said.
She added that the home crowd was "definitely what made the difference for us. We felt all along it was an advantage to host it. It would have taken more to win it away, and we didn't have any more - we were maxed out."
It was the second title for Georgia. The 'Dogs won in 1987 at Utah.
UCLA opened with a 48.55 to Georgia's 47.95 on vault (they followed the same rotation as first and fifth seeds), but Georgia made up ground (48.3-48.1) on bars, and Yoculan started to believe her team could win in its third event, beam, when freshman Sophia Royce came up after a fall by Paula Mayheu and scored 9.6 to get Georgia back on track. The Dogs never scored less than 9.5 the rest of the meet and threw together a 48.5 on floor while UCLA was having big trouble on beam with floor yet to come.
"We were in total control of our own destiny," said Tomlinson, "and we gave the meet away. "The better team doesn't always win. We got beat tonight."
Perhaps because UCLA used the extra skills on one bar when coaches had been warned a few days ago not to.
Utah started fairly cleanly but devoid of spark on balance beam, and things got worse from there. The Utes suffered two falls on floor exercise, two on bars and had big wobbles on almost all of their vault dismounts.
"We just had a bad night. Sooner or later, it was bound to happen," said Utah's Marsden. "If we had had the meet we were capable of, we'd have been in contention, from what I saw."
He blamed himself for not finding the way to get the Utes prepared. "When you come to nationals, you have to have the meet of your life, and we didn't. You certainly hate to end the season not doing what you felt you were capable of."
Marsden confessed to having had doubts for a couple of days. "Ever since we got here, we had trouble getting going," he said, noting a slow workout in Georgia Coliseum on Thursday.
"A really blah workout yesterday," agreed Ute senior Hilarie Portell. She said Utah did everything according to the game plan and the start on beam was about what the Utes wanted. "We didn't want to come out real excited because you need to be calm and focused for beam."
They just never got revved up afterward.
The Beehive State's two other representatives, Utah State's Tana Call-Davis and Brigham Young's Korie Jackman, who each celebrated birthdays this week, fell victim to about the same fortune as Utah.
Davis totaled 37.25 all-around for 38th, scoring 9.3 on floor, 9.3 on vault, 9.35 on bars and 9.3 on beam. "No, it was not her crispest or sharpest meet," said USU Coach Ray Corn, "but she is very pleased with herself. I think that for what took place, she did an excellent job for a high-school state champion from Minnesota in her first NCAA meet."
"I hit everything," said Davis. "I could have hit a little better, but I can't complain. I was pretty nervous."
Jackman fell from beam and totaled 36.80 as the first BYU representative ever in the NCAA meet. She placed 47th all-around. "Everything just kind of blew me away," said the freshman from Springville. "It was weird. I kinda felt small. I'd much rather be with a team."
Utah's best all-around finish was Patti Massoels at 38.25 for 11th. Jessica Smith at 38.20 was 14th, and Kris Takahashi, who's had troubles at previous national finals. did well at 20th place and 37.80.
The top eight finishers in each of the four events compete tonight for NCAA titles in vault, bars, beam and floor. The top six tonight make all-America status.
Missy Marlowe, who only competed in two events Friday because of shin splints, made the finals in each - bars and beam. Massoels qualified on bars and freshman Shelly Schaerrer qualified in vaulting.
"Schaerrer had a horrible, horrible night," said Marsden, sympathizing. "I'm sure it was a nightmare for her. She was going for it, and all the mistakes were over-do kind of mistakes."