Cleveland • They hugged, they cheered and they flashed the “U” sign with their hands countless times as their fans stood on their feet and saluted them. For Utah’s gymnastics program, never has a fifth-place showing at an NCAA Championships been so celebrated.
The Utes have 10 national-title banners hanging in their gym and have finished in the top three five times in the past seven years, but arguably Saturday’s effort of 196.5 in the NCAA Championships at the Wolstein Center on the campus of Cleveland State University was one of the team’s most satisfying.
How one judges the final results is all about perspective, of course.
For Alabama, Saturday was a dream competition from start to finish, as the Crimson Tide won their first championship since 2002 by scoring a 197.65. For defending champion UCLA, finishing second with a 197.375 had to be a bitter disappointment after being within a tenth of a point or two of repeating until the final rotation.
As for the Utes, a team with so much youth that coach Greg Marsden’s main concern when the season started was finding a way to keep the gymnasts on the equipment rather than making a run at the NCAAs, finishing fifth was an accomplishment to be celebrated.
“We couldn’t be happier,” junior Stephanie McAllister said. “We went out there and did all we could, and we were happy with that.”
It should also be a launching pad for the future, too, since the Utes graduate just two seniors in Jacquelyn Johnson and Gael Mackie. The third and best senior, Kyndal Robarts, will be back next year after missing all but two meets of the 2011 season with a knee injury.
However, the Utes will spend some time celebrating their finish before they worry about next season. Utah, which was ranked seventh at the end of the season and seeded just eighth going into nationals, kept alive its streak of making the Super Six every year since 2000.
No other team can claim that distinction.
“It has been such a fun year for me, as a coach,” Marsden said. “If you had told me that, with six freshmen and Kyndal going out that at the end of the season, we would be here at the Super Six and finish one place higher than we did a year ago with a veteran team, I wouldn’t have believed it. When you look at it with that perspective, it was a great year.”
In the end, the Utes had to fight hard to hold onto fifth place. They had a 98.075 after two rotations, putting them within striking distance of Nebraska (98.175) and just ahead of Michigan (97.9).
Both Utah and Nebraska scored 49.2s on their next events, with Utah getting the score on the vault and Nebraska hitting that number on the floor.Next Page »