Los Angeles • The love affair with the underdog role is over for Utah’s gymnastics team. As for the season, it is in the books too, a day earlier than the Utes had hoped it would be.
The 10th-seeded Utes failed to qualify for Saturday’s Super Six finals as they finished with a 196.2 to place fifth in the evening session at Pauley Pavilion.
Alabama won the session with a 197.35. UCLA and Oklahoma tied with a 197.2 to advance as well. Michigan (196.85) and Arkansas (196.15) joined Utah in missing the cut.
The Utes have participated in the Super Six every year since 1999, when they finished seventh. Included in the run were two surprise appearances when Utah qualified as the eighth seed in 2011 and seventh seed in 2012. Utah finished fifth both years.
Unfortunately, the Utes couldn’t muster a similar upset on Friday as they self-destructed on the balance beam.
The Utes needed a 49.225 on the beam to force a tie with Oklahoma and UCLA. Instead, the Utes had three falls and finished with a 48.225, their season low on the apparatus.
“Well, shoot,” said Utah coach Greg Marsden, summing up the evening. “It just wasn’t our night. This team has been through a lot and we have gotten better, it just wasn’t good enough.”
Balance beam has been the team’s nemesis all year long, but the Utes hoped they could conquer it Friday, especially after they scored a 49.475 on the uneven bars to put them in position for a comeback.
The bars score was Utah’s second highest of the year and second highest in the program’s history at the NCAA Championships.
But instead of carrying the momentum onto the beam, the Utes let it carry them off it.
“We started off tight, and we just couldn’t loosen up,” Tory Wilson said. “We tried to go into this meet with no expectations and just have fun, but we couldn’t do that at the end. We tried too hard.”
That the Utes were even in position at the end to score an upset was a surprise, given the way the night started.
The Utes believed they needed big scores on their first two events of vault and floor to have a chance at the favorites. Instead, they scored just 98.5 as small mistakes cost the Utes a tenth of a point here and there.
Elsewhere, teams were earning high marks, with Alabama and Oklahoma tied for first at 98.55 and UCLA in third at 98.525. Utah had a bye to regroup, but while the Utes were cooling off, other teams got hotter. Both UCLA (vault) and Oklahoma (bars) scored 49.5s in the fourth rotation to put the Utes in a bind.
However, just when they looked out of it, they came storming back with the high bars score. Unfortunately, the high set them up for a big fall in the end.
The ups and downs of the night were indicative of the way the season went, Marsden said.
“It’s a relatively young team, and I hope we can learn from our mistakes,” he said. “We get everybody back, we just need to work on balance beam in the offseason. That has to be our focus, and we have to get a better mental approach.”
The Utes aren’t totally done as Wilson qualified for Sunday’s finals on vault, Georgia Dabritz qualified on the bars and Nansy Damianova qualified on the bars and floor.
Dabritz said advancing was bittersweet.
“I was hoping we would be competing tomorrow night as a team,” she said.
Tenth-seeded Utah scores 196.2 to finish fifth
O IN SHORT • Utah’s streak of being the only team in the country to qualify for every Super Six since 2000 ends Friday.
KEY MOMENT • The Utes need to score 49.225 on the beam to tie Oklahoma and force a tiebreaker, but they score 48.225.
KEY STAT • Utah’s uneven bars score of 49.475 was the second best for the program in its NCAA history.
Vault • Joanna Sampson (Michigan), Kaelie Baer (UCLA), 9.950
Uneven bars • Erica Brewer (Oklahoma), Georgia Dabritz (Utah), 9.950
Balance beam • Kayla Williams (Alabama), Danusia Francis (UCLA), 9.900
Floor • Diandra Milliner (Alabama), Katherine Grable (Arkansas), Olivia Courtney (UCLA), 9.950
All-around • Joanna Sampson (Michigan), Katie Zurales (Michigan), 39.525