ATHENS, Ga. Utah coach Greg Marsden thought his team did a pretty good job on its first two events at the evening team preliminaries session Thursday in the 2008 NCAA women's gymnastics championships at the University of Georgia, scoring 49.30 on bars and 49.05 on beam which he didn't think was enough reward for the skills they'd done.
The low beam total had the Utes in for a fight even after two events with UCLA, Stanford and Michigan, and then they started floor with a fall and soon had a step out of bounds that cost them 0.1 point, leaving them going into their final event needing to score 49.20 to nose out UCLA for third place and a qualifying spot in tonight's Super Six national championships at Stegeman Coliseum.
Luckily, vault has been Utah's best event this season though floor was maybe its second-best and the Utes put together a 49.40, the highest vault score of the 12 teams in the preliminaries, to move into second place for the session easily qualifying for tonight's finals, along with top-ranked, top-seeded Georgia and Stanford out of the evening session and Florida, LSU and Alabama out of the afternoon session.
Georgia had a nearly flawless night to score 197.625 to Utah's 196.95 which would have won the afternoon session over second-seeded Florida's 196.90.
"We gave 100 percent tonight, and I hope we can get the adrenaline back up," said Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan. "We had a peak performance with the exception of three (minor) mistakes. We can't do a whole lot more."
Utah senior Ashley Postell the 2002 world beam champion and 2007 NCAA beam champion and top-ranked beam performer all season in 2008 was a bit disappointed in her score on that event, thinking the only thing she did wrong in a routine judged at only 9.875 was a slight hop on the dismount.
"Aside from my dismount with a little hop, I felt it was a good routine for me," Postell said. "I had those couple meets where I was a little shaky on my series, and I finally feel good about my beam routine. I was a little shocked, but the scores have been tight all day."
She was also docked hard for a step on vault, another event on which she ranked No. 1.
Those deductions kept her from winning the all-around. She finished second for the third straight year.
Still, Postell was happy to still be competing tonight. "The only thing that matters is that we qualified," she said.
By luck of the draw after Thursday's competition, Utah will start tonight's finals at 4 p.m. MDT on balance beam, not the easiest place to begin because it's hard to channel nervous energy into the event that least needs explosiveness. Marsden said it didn't matter where Utah started. Georgia will start on floor.
"It got a little nerve-wracking," Marsden said of Utah's floor set Thursday night that scored 49.20, tied for the second-highest of the evening session but which started with some errors. Second up on floor, Daria Bijak righted things from the fall before her with 9.875, but then freshman Kyndal Robarts stepped out of bounds for 9.725.
However, Annie DiLuzio hit 9.80 and Kristina Baskett and Ashley Postell each scored 9.90s, giving the Utes a good chance once they went to vault, where Baskett scored 9.95, tied for the best score of the two sessions, and the Utes were back in the finals for the eighth straight year.
Marsden said the coaching staff would have to discuss what it will do on floor in tonight's finals. Marsden had decided to go with senior Katie Kivisto as Thursday's leadoff, but she sat down on her last skill, so he may go back to sophomore Beth Rizzo.
"I'm glad we've got that decision to make," he said. "Now we have to relax and do the little things for (tonight). The floor deductions we can get rid of," he added about stepping out of bounds and little steps on landings. "We have to come in and relax and be aggressive and can't give little things away."
"This was a big high for us," said Baskett about the way the Utes came back to finish with the second-best score of 12, "and hopefully we will do even better tomorrow."
AFTERNOON SESSION: For the first time ever, 30-year LSU coach D-D Breaux's team qualified for the Super Six, which has been around since 1993. "I am so glad to be part of the team that finally her there," said all-arounder Susan Jackson.
Said Breaux, "The difference in winning and losing, we have a sign in the gym that says it's this much," Breaux said, pinching a thumb and forefinger close together, "and I have lived that 'this much' for 30 years. I feel like a 300-pound gorilla has been lifted off my back."LSU scored 196.675 to place second in the afternoon session to Florida at 196.90.