Gymnastics: Third-place Utes have no regrets
Lincoln, Neb. » Utah's gymnastics team came here with dreams of winning a national title. In the end, the Utes had to settle for a third-place trophy and the comfort of knowing they had done the best they could.
Utah scored a 197.425 to finish behind Georgia (197.825) and Alabama (197.575). Florida was fourth (196.725), followed by Arkansas (196.475) and LSU (196.375).
Georgia's win gives the Gym Dogs 10 national titles, which ties Utah for the most ever for a program. In addition, the five in a row ties Utah (1982-86) for the most consecutive NCAA titles won by one school.
Utah now has finished in the top four for the last five years. It finished third in 2005 and second the last three years.
"We moved a spot on the podium, just not in the direction we wanted," said Utah coach Greg Marsden.
That he could joke about the Utes' placing so soon after the meet is indicative of the team's overall mood.
The Utes were disappointed, but not devastated, they said.
Devastation would have been if they had failed to qualify for the Super Six, something that nearly came true before they won a tiebreaker with UCLA for third in the qualifying round Thursday.
That performance rated as the worst of the year by the gymnasts' estimations.
"What happened was good because it grounded us and made us appreciate where we are and enjoy the moment we have here," senior Kristina Baskett said. "Last night, we could not have had this moment, and we were going to take anything we got. It made us appreciate being on the floor today and representing Utah and the West Coast."
Friday was much different than Thursday, with Utah performing much more consistently throughout the competition. The problem was Georgia and Alabama improved on their Thursday performances, too.
Alabama started strong to take the early lead, while Georgia struggled on the bars and balance beam.
After two rotations, Alabama led with 98.75 points, while Georgia and Utah were tied for second at 98.625.
During a bye, retiring Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan took her team into the locker room and reminded the gymnasts to compete so they wouldn't have any regrets.
Georgia did just that, coming out of the break and scoring a 49.575 on floor, with every gymnast earning a 9.9 or higher.
While Georgia was hitting big on floor, Utah was having a similar performance on vault, the event that was the Utes' saving grace Thursday when they earned a 49.4 to put them in the tie with UCLA for the last qualifying spot.
On Friday, the Utes did even better, posting a 49.525, led by Baskett's 9.95.
The effort put the Utes ahead of Alabama and gave them the hope they could catch Georgia on the last rotation.
But Georgia would have none of that, as the Gym Dogs scored a 49.625 on the vault.
Georgia ended the meet on a bye and started its celebration early, knowing that Utah needed an almost impossible score of 49.675 to tie.
Utah couldn't do it, finishing with a 49.275 on the bars. Every gymnast had 9.8 or higher, but it wasn't enough to catch Georgia or hold off Alabama, which finished with a 49.5 on floor.
"I can't be unhappy, not with the performance we had tonight," Marsden said. "I have nothing but praise for our team. They did a great job, but obviously there were a lot of other teams that did a great job."
Senior Nina Kim said the Utes had no regrets, not even making the T-shirts that said "2009 national champions" or wearing gold on their uniforms to signify first.
"It's about how we felt, those were our dreams," she said. "We believed in our hearts we did our best and we couldn't have done better. We don't have any regrets."
In brief » A good meet by the Utes simply isn't good enough, as they finish third after taking second the last three years.
Key stat » Utah puts up a 49.525, its second-best vault score of the year, to stay in the hunt for the national title.
Key moment » The Utes need a 49.675 on the bars to tie Georgia but score a 49.275.
Vault 49.625 49.525
Uneven bars 49.425 49.275
Balance beam 49.2 49.175
Floor 49.575 49.45