Cleveland • Utah's gymnastics team has lived on the edge all season. On Friday the Utes held on to that edge by their fingertips, swung over it and landed right in the middle of the mix for the NCAA Championship title.
The Utes used a near-miraculous comeback to score a 196.2 to snag the final qualifying spot in Saturday's Super Six, which starts at 2 p.m. at the Wolstein Center on the campus of Cleveland State.
Alabama won Utah's session with a 197.05, followed by Nebraska (196.85). Just missing the cut were Florida (196.125), Oregon State (196.1) and Kent State (195.0).
The Oklahoma Sooners won the afternoon session with a 196.775, while Michigan was second with a 196.7 and UCLA was third (196.5) to grab the last qualifying spot in Saturday's Super Six. Arkansas and Georgia finished tied with 195.45 and Illinois was sixth with a 195.1.
Utah didn't clinch its spot in the Super Six until the final two rotations, when it overtook Oregon State and held off Florida.
"Words can't describe how excited we are," freshman Mary Beth Lofgren said. "Just to survive when it was so close is amazing."
The Utes will start the Super Six on balance beam, thanks to a random draw. But even starting on what many regard as the toughest event can't dampen Utah's spirits after their effort Friday.
"There are no expectations for us," Lofgren said. "We can go in relaxed and just show people what we can do."
After the preliminary round, no team will count out the Utes until the competition is over.
Utah scored a 49.275 on the vault to finish its competition and edge ahead of Oregon State, which had led Utah all night until the Utes' final rotation.
Utah then had to sit through an agonizing bye to see if Florida would catch up. The Gators were on a comeback all night after they opened with a 48.125 on the beam their lowest score of the year on any event.
But big scores on the other events left the Gators needing just 49.375 to tie the Utes. Florida had scored above 49.4 earlier in the season, making such a comeback probable.
Utah's coaches gave the gymnasts the option of waiting in the locker room rather than watching Florida's rotation. For a few moments it seemed as if the Utes had opted to watch their downfall.
The Gators didn't have any breaks on the event with every gymnast scoring above 9.8, but even that effort wasn't good enough to beat the Utes as Florida finished with a 49.3.
As soon as Florida's last score of 9.9 flashed, Utah's gymnasts knew they'd survived and their celebration in the pit started.
"Sitting there watching Florida, we knew we had left it all out there," freshman Corrie Lothrop said. "We knew it was close but we also knew we did everything we could to get to the finals."
By advancing, the Utes avenged season losses to top-ranked Florida and No. 3 Oregon State, which won the Pac-10 title and its regional competition.
"We didn't have one big event, it was the epitome of team gymnastics," Utah coach Megan Marsden said. "It was hard to pick out one person that did it for us. From top to the bottom of the lineup we were solid."
R In short • The Utes rally to snag the final qualifying spot in Saturday's Super Six.
Key moment • Florida's last gymnast needs a 10.0 on the bars to tie the Utes for third. She earns a 9.9.
Key stat • The Utes advance despite scoring one 9.9.
Utes by event
Vault • 49.275
Uneven bars • 49.05
Balance beam • 48.75
Floor • 49.125