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John Amis, Associated Press
Utah gymnasts Gael Mackie, left, Beth Rizzo, and Kyndal Robarts react as scores come in showing Utah finished second at the NCAA gymnastics championships.

ATHENS, Ga. — Once upon a time, Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden remembered, his team was the one everyone wanted to beat.

"Hats off to Georgia. They are the dynasty, the juggernaut," Marsden said, standing in an equipment room behind the tunnel at Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum floor, where the Gym Dogs were celebrating their fourth-straight NCAA team championship Friday night and the ninth in their history.

That ties them with Utah for most NCAA career titles — nine — though Utah also won the AIAW championship in 1981, the year before the NCAA took over administration of women's sports.

"I'm aware of it," Marsden said about the Gym Dogs tying Utah's number of NCAA titles. But he wasn't overly unhappy about that, especially since the Utes really did a good job in finishing second for the third year in a row. In the early and mid-1980s, the Utes won six straight, including the AIAW title, something Georgia hasn't yet done, though more teams are strong now.

Georgia totaled 197.450 to Utah's 197.125, with Stanford third at 196.750 and Florida fourth at 196.700. Fifth and sixth went to LSU and Alabama.

In the early 1980s, the Utes won six straight, including the AIAW title.

It was the closest team race since a .325-point difference in 2002 when Alabama beat Georgia.

"I always say that winning the title is relative to how your competition competes," said Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan, whose team didn't have to sweat that much, though Utah was coming on strong.

The Utes were in a fourth-place tie after the first event, but the Utes began on beam, the hardest place to start and often the lowest-scoring event. For those reasons, Marsden wasn't worried about being fourth. After their second event — floor — the Utes had moved up to within .05 point of Stanford in second place, despite a fall from Daria Bijak, who touched down her hands and landed low on her double front-punch front for a .5 deduction.

After its third event, a 49.40 vault, Utah was in second by .15 point, and when it completed bars with 49.35, it was a very solid second.

Marsden was pleased that two teams from the West broke up the Southeast Conference's potential sweep. Stanford and Utah were the only teams in Friday night's Super Six not from the SEC.

Marsden was also pumped that his team, for the first time in his memory of 33 years coaching the Utes, finished the season never having to count a fall — meaning it never had two falls in one event all year.

That said, "You always want to win," he said, adding he'd by lying if he didn't want to win, but Utah would have needed to score 49.675 on bars, statistically its lowest-scoring event this season, to have tied Yoculan's bunch that was so confident of winning it already had championship T-shirts available.

Georgia deserves all the credit, though, winning after losing its best all-arounder, Courtney Kupets, the Olympian who won NCAA championships the last two years, to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

Utah follows the fortunes of its own magnificent all-arounder, Ashley Postell. She was third in the NCAA all-around as a freshman, and the Utes took third as a team. She's been second in each of the last three years, and so has her team.

However, she ended her career team competitions scoring 39.75 to really pull the Utes into that runner-up spot again.

And that had Marsden also saying, "We didn't lose. We were second."

"Overall," said Postell, "we're just going to feel good about second." She mentioned that Florida, LSU and other teams were cheering for the Utes, and the Utes were cheering for them.

"I'm actually not so sad like I thought (after a third-straight second place). We did the best we could. We're happy," said junior Nina Kim, who posted a pair of 9.80s on vault and bars and a 9.85 on beam.

She admitted she and fellow junior Kristina Baskett were already talking about next year. In the hallway they were joking — "'Hey, do you feel the senior power?"' they asked each other. Kim said she thought the night "was really intense" in its competition with Stanford, LSU and, for a while, Alabama.

"We're not going home with our heads down. We had an awesome year, and this is kind of where we've been throughout the year, so we did what we've been doing. I think we had a great meet, and so did Georgia ," said Baskett. "Starting on beam is rough."

These 2008 championships wrap up tonight with the individual event finals at 4 p.m. MDT today. Postell, Baskett and Kyndal Robarts have opportunities to win national championships then. Postell is in three event finals, all but vault, even though she ended the season as the nation's No. 1 vaulter. Baskett is in bars and floor, and Robarts is in bars finals.

Team scores

Georgia 197.450

Utah 197.125

Stanford 196.750

Florida 196.700

LSU 196.350

Alabama 196.125

E-mail: lham@desnews.com