Paul Battaglia, Associated Press
USU's Megan Tschida competes in the floor exercises during Saturday's NCAA North Central Regional in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS — Utah State freshman Jasmine Minion said she kept thinking "Big vault, big vault" as she competed in her first NCAA regional gymnastics competition.

She did just what she was thinking.

"Best vault, best score," she said of the 9.90 she totaled at the University of Minnesota Saturday night. It had her tied for first until Utah's Kristina Baskett hit 9.925 to win the North Central Regional vault title and take away Minion's chance to advance to the 2008 NCAA Championships at Georgia in two weeks as a vault specialist.

Southern Utah all-arounder Elise Wheeler did qualify for the national championships in the all-around, scoring 39.225 and finishing just behind Minnesota's Carmelina Carbajal (39.275). They were the top two all-arounders in Saturday's meet not affiliated with a team that is advancing, so they qualify for the national all-around finals April 24.

No other at-large competitors qualified out of the North Central Region for nationals. In individual events, they must be the outright winners to move on, and Utah athletes won every event, including the all-around.

"Elise was beautiful on all four events. She looked amazing," said Southern Utah coach Scott Bauman, whose team finished fifth in the meet.

Southern Utah started the meet with a fall on floor, and while it didn't have to count any falls in the meet until its second-to-last performer, it was not at its best in scoring 194.05 and finishing fifth in the six-team meet.

"It's still a real young team and this is great experience for them," he said. "We kind of felt like it was going to be a tough meet for them, and they were going to be nervous, but we had an outside shot. We had to have the perfect meet, and we truly didn't. They scrapped hard. Our first kid up on floor fell, and then our next five hit beautifully."

The Thunderbirds did well on vault and bars, although Bauman let his final barworker, Erin Morgan, do her most difficult skills because the T-Birds already had a solid score, and she fell trying her big combination.

"We wanted to give her a shot at it because it's beautiful, and our first five hit really solid. That's an amazing combination," said Bauman.

His young club likely returns all but two events next season, "So this is a great experience for us, and I'm so proud of how they did. This is a tough meet to come into, and I'm just really proud of them."

Utah State is in the same position with a young club pointing toward moving up next season.

"I've nailed them before," Minion said of her vaulting, "but never standing straight up like that."

Minion said she had about decided to retire from gymnastics until she saw Utah State coach Ray Corn at the Junior Olympic nationals last summer, and he convinced her to be an Aggie anyway.

Minion, one of six Aggies in the meet, said she will do as Corn hopes — come back to Utah State and convince her team to join her at regionals next year.

Corn has been hoping the six in this meet would go home and tell the others it would be a lot more fun to have a team in the regional. It's only the fifth time in 31 years that they haven't qualified as a group.

Aggie junior Nicki Felley "didn't have the meet she's capable of," said Corn, noting she is working on a stress fracture. Felley scored 36.975, and Heather Heinrich had 37.65. Nicole Simoneau had 9.80 on bars, and Megan Tschida scored 9.825 on floor before her near-hometown folk. She's from nearby St. Paul.

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