Not this year: Gymnastics finishes third at nationals

By and

AUBURN, Ala.-In the end, solid just wasn’t enough. The Red Rocks, behind good performances all night, took third in the team gymnastics NCAA National Championships Friday night.

Unfortunately for the Utes, the University of Georgia caught fire just at the right time of the season, and exploded to capture its sixth national title in school history with a season high 197.825.

“The team just believed,” Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan said. “Those stars have to align and they did for Georgia tonight.”

The Bulldogs came a long way after a disastrous regional performance that included three falls off the beam. They made it into nationals as the 12th and final seed, only after the University of Denver also fell three times.

But Friday, they could do no wrong. No performance scored lower than 9.8 on any event, and they opened up on beam with a statement team score of 49.350.

“Georgia was absolutely on fire,” Ute coach Greg Marsden said. “They got it done, and the rest of us didn’t.”

The Utes finished with a team total of 197.275. Good, but not championship caliber.

“Georgia did the little things, and we didn’t get the little things done,” Marsden said. “To me, that was the difference.”

In front of a very raucous and very split crowd, the Utes had to start off the night on floor. Kristen Riffanacht stepped out of bounds to start things off, and the rest of the team fell prey to early jitters. The Red Rocks would bounce back, but couldn’t catch up in the end, as the Gym Dogs didn’t give anyone a shot at a rally.

Alabama finished second with a score of 197.400. The Crimson Tide looked all but done for after second-rotation beam troubles, but rolled through floor and vault with scores of 49.60 and 49.625 respectively.

A big part of the turnaround was junior All-American Ashley Miles turning in perfect 10s on both of the final events.

On the night, Utah’s big four all had good showings. Senior Annabeth Eberle put in a good final all-around performance, with a 39.500. After the meet, a teary Eberle said it was one of her more emotional nights.

“I was nervous and my stomach was in knots,” Eberle said. “I am so proud of this team.”

Nicolle Ford led the Utes with a score of 39.550, including a 9.95 on beam, making up for her fall the night before.

Rachel Tidd continued to ignore her lingering back injury, tying Eberle with a 39.500. Her 9.95 on bars tied for a meet high.

It was a slightly disappointing night for Ashley Postell, as the freshman registered a 39.325. Hampered by a pre-meet heel bruise, Postell had a difficult time on her landings throughout the evening.

“She was a trooper,” said Marsden, who said he left the decision of whether or not to compete up to Postell. “She was walking around on tip-toes all night.”

The night definitely wasn’t what the Utes expected, but for Postell, who will get three more shots at a title, this is only the beginning.

“It excites me even more [for next year],” Postell said.

[email protected]