Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Southern Utah gymnast Leah Sakhitab competes on the vault during the NCAA Gymnastics Championshps in Alabama on Thursday.

AUBURN, Ala. — It's been so long since BYU made it to the national women's gymnastics championship field, not since 2000, that none of the current Cougars had ever been to the finals.

That was a bit of a problem.

"We've always had kids that had been here before," said coach Brad Cattermole. "This time, we had nobody who had even been here. They were having fun, they were excited—maybe they were a little too excited."

BYU placed 11th of 12 teams in the meet's preliminary team sessions Thursday, scoring 194.625 in the pressure-packed evening round. The team is now done for the season, and none of the Cougars qualified for event finals on Saturday.

Neither did Southern Utah sophomore Leah Sakhitab, who got here as an at-large all-arounder.

But there was nothing but pride and hope for next year out of both camps.

"I think it's a wonderful experience," said BYU coach Brad Cattermole. "They'll go home and be a little more intense it workouts just to come back here again.

"There were kids that were upset that they didn't do better, and not the fake upset, 'Oh poor me,"' he said.

"They truly wanted to do better. I think those kids will tell the freshmen coming in, 'Guys, we're going back to the national championships, and let's get after it."'

Southern Utah coach Scott Bauman said Sakhitab will be the same way and want to bring her teammates with her in 2006 when nationals are at Oregon State.

"The beauty about Leah is she will not let that happen again ever," Bauman said about Sakhitab's fall on her final event, bars, when she barely missed catching on a release more. "She's ready for next year already, like, 'I'm coming back here."'

Sakhitab totaled 38.30 in the all-around, placing 45th, but Bauman noted that it's difficult when there are no teammates to experience the meet with her. " She just struggled on one event. She started on beam, and she was the only girl going in that rotation, and that's hard. You're used to all the noise. And she got up there and just absolutely drilled that routine.

"She's wonderful.

"She is extraordinarily upset at bars — she was like, 'I had it,"' Bauman said.

For BYU, the problem was holding back just a bit.

"I was surprised that we seemed a little bit — I don't know if nervous is the right word, or just a little bit more careful. We weren't quite as free as we were at regionals," Cattermole noted. "It's just experience from being at nationals. I didn't write that into the equation. I thought we'd be OK in that area.

"But we had a lot of girls who were just a little bit more careful today, and you just can't do this meet careful. You've got to lay it out there."

BYU, however, didn't have to count a fall and was fairly steady, just not aggressive enough to get into the scoring frenzy of a session that had local favorites Alabama, Georgia and Florida and two-time defending NCAA champion UCLA.

"I thought the kids did great. I was happy that they gave it their best shot through the whole meet. They didn't fold up the tent and go home," said Cattermole.