The Pac-12 Championship was there for the Utah Utes’ taking, then it slipped away. More accurately, the Utes slipped off the balance beam and lost it.
Or, if you prefer the Utes’ view, they came back and earned second.
The Utes’ first experience in a major conference championship had as many changes of emotions and directions as one of the gymnasts’ floor routines.
In the end it was UCLA that prevailed, winning the Pac-12 championship with a 197.425 in front of 10,879 at the Huntsman Center.
The Utes were second with a 197.375, Oregon State was third (197.025) and Stanford was fourth (196.825).
Arizona posted the highest score in the afternoon session with a 195.9, followed by Arizona State (194.55), Washington (194.125) and California (193.525).
Finishing oh-so-close to first left Utah’s gymnasts disappointed but still enthused about the experience.
“We had a few mistakes, but that is part of athletics,” Utah senior Stephanie McAllister said. “We did some really good things, too.”
UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field called Saturday’s victory the hardest-fought out of all her team’s 15 conference titles and six NCAA titles as Stanford, then the Utes and finally her team all had chances to win.
“Everyone was emailing me all week saying this meet was going to be like the Super Six, and it certainly turned out that way,” she said. “I always want to stay in my ‘Bruin bubble’ but it was hard to do because every team was doing great.”
The Utes had their moment on the uneven bars when they scored a season-high 49.6 to trail Stanford by just 0.025 at the halfway mark.
But the Utes lost the opportunity to make history when both freshman Kassandra Lopez and sophomore Mary Beth Lofgren fell off the balance beam.
What added to the pain of Saturday’s errors on balance beam was Stanford and UCLA both had falls later in the competition that kept the door open for the Utes.
The difference between the Bruins and the other teams is that the Bruins didn’t have to count any of their falls. UCLA finished with a 49.375 on beam after its second gymnast fell.
The Bruins had to wait until Utah’s final competitors were done, though, as the Utes finished strong, scoring a 49.525 on the floor.
Utah preferred to focus on the strong finish, which was a season high on the floor, rather than the earlier mistakes.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with the mistakes on beam and felt we’d taken ourselves out of it,” Utah coach Greg Marsden said. “We were just trying to finish off floor like we do and entertain the fans and do a great job. We had no idea people were coming back to us.”
Saturday’s event marked the first time the Utes have had two falls on the balance beam this season.
By contrast, they’ve struggled to be consistent on the uneven bars.
So, what happened? The Utes believe they failed to put the emotions that came with their uneven bars set behind them well enough to focus on the balance beam.
“There was so much excitement and enthusiasm, sometimes on beam you have to chill out,” Marsden said. “I’m not convinced that didn’t have something to do with it. We needed to control our emotions, but we’ll learn from this.”
The Utes find out Monday who they will compete against in the NCAA Regional Championships they are hosting April 7.
“We did so many good things, we aren’t going to beat ourselves up,” McAllister said. “We are going to get back in the gym. We have a bye week and then regionals to look forward to so we aren’t going to dwell on how close we were.”
R In short • The Utes suffer two falls on the balance beam to lose their chance at a league title.
Key moment • The Utes score a season high on the uneven bars, then fall from second to third with the falls on beam.
Key stat • Corrie Lothrop and Stephanie McAllister finished first and second, respectively, in the all-around competition.