Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Utah's Ashley Postell hugs assistant coach Megan Marsden after competing in the NCAA gym regional.

Greg Marsden was wrong.

He thought someone on his team had done a masterful job during Utah's bye period Saturday night at the NCAA North Central women's gymnastics regional at the Huntsman Center.

No. 1-ranked Utah went into the bye, after its first two events, behind Brigham Young and not much ahead of Oregon State.

When he got into the locker room, he noted a different attitude — determined, strong.

"The job had already been done," said the Utes' coach. "We talked about some things, but I think they had gotten themselves together."

Actually, said Ute senior Annabeth Eberle, nobody said much of anything before Marsden got there. It was just a collective but unspoken knowledge that the Utes had to pick it up from there.

Did they ever.

Utah wound up winning 196.80 to BYU's second-place 195.975 with Oregon State placing third at 195.675.

The top two finishers in the North Central Regional, as in the country's other five regionals, all advance to the 2005 NCAA championships at Auburn on April 21-23.

Utah has advanced to nationals for all 30 of the program's seasons, though Marsden is still nervous every time there's a qualifying meet.

For BYU, it's the first time the Cougars have made the final 12 since 2000. It is a slight upset as the Cougars are ranked 13th to Oregon State's No. 12 ranking to end the regular season.

"Tonight was amazing," said BYU coach Brad Cattermole. "We've worked hard all year long, and you have to give our kids credit, since many of them competed with stress fractures tonight. We did an amazing job on beam, and I don't think we could have done any better tonight."

Finishing fourth was Minnesota at 193.975, followed by Southern Utah (193.45) and Iowa (192.35).

"We made it interesting for awhile," said Marsden, whose team had to count a fall for just the second time all season in any event when Rachel Tidd fell while aggressively trying to attack her balance beam set and Ashley Postell fell for the second time in two meets after not having a fall in any event all season until the regular-season closer at BYU.

At BYU, the fall was on floor.

This time, it was on beam, the event in which she was 2002 world champion, though she also stuck a tiptoe on the line on floor and was judged out of bounds, though she and teammates thought she'd stayed in.

"No one's perfect," Postell said with a smile. "It's better to do it here than in nationals. There's not really a problem. The skill I fell on, I'm not too worried about."

Marsden isn't either, now. But he had a squeamish feeling before going into the locker room during the bye.

Utah made good on its determination in its third event, rocking floor exercise for 49.525, the highest score of the meet, and finishing up with 49.425 on vault with Tidd coming back from the fall for 9.9 followed by a 9.95 by Eberle, who won the all-around.

Eberle finished her last floor routine with 9.95, and fellow senior Gritt Hofmann scored 9.925 on her last routine in the Huntsman Center. "I was really happy to have another chance in front of our home crowd, but I performed for the team," Hofmann said.

"We got away with it," Marsden said about the falls on beam. He added that Utah won't get away with anything like that at nationals, where a strong field awaits.

Teams advancing from other regionals at Louisiana State (197.125) and Oklahoma (195.50) from the Northeast, Florida (196.575) and Georgia (195.15) from the Southeast, Alabama (196.675) and Iowa State (195.625) from the Central, Michigan (196.60) and Nebraska (196.30) from the South Central and UCLA (197.025) and Penn State (195.375) from the West.

"I don't think it's all bad," Marsden said about Utah's making a few mistakes, figuring it will lead the team to practice all that much harder the next two weeks. It's already one of the more competitive teams in Ute history with several athletes who really hate losing.

Which is why the Utes managed to get themselves back together without saying a word.

"I feel like we can compete with anyone," Marsden said, though he added he didn't think Utah had an edge on any of the other top teams, either. "It will be a dogfight," he said about nationals. But at least Utah's dog is in the hunt again.

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Brigham Young led everybody after two events, but the Cougars still had bars, their most iffy event, and Utah had events on which it has scored 49.60 this season. OSU had vault and bars, its two lowest-scoring events.

While the Utes were gearing up in the final two events, the Cougars sank to their lowest score of the evening (48.675) on their worst event, bars, but they roared back for their best score (49.25) on beam, their best event — the one that kept them from advancing to nationals last year due to a fall. They missed by .1 point then. "But this year, with this group, I would want beam to be our last event," said Cattermole. "We did a great job on beam."