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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Bittersweet victory

By Tony Pizza

The U gymnastics team’s run at a fairy tale ending to the 2007 season came to a close Friday night, but the Utes did not go down without once against proving how far they have come this season.

Georgia captured its third straight national championship in front of 9,255 mostly Utah supporters at the Huntsman Center Friday night. Georgia captured the three-peat with a final score of 197.850 to beat out second-place Utah by more than half a point.

For the Red Rocks, it was the second straight time they had to play second fiddle to Georgia’s championship. But in the middle of the match, it looked as if they might just have enough to knock Georgia off the top of the gymnastics world.

After taking the first rotation off with a bye, Georgia got off to a hot start as the Gym Dogs tore through their bars set for a 49.425 behind a solid team effort that saw three Georgia gymnasts capture 9.900 scores. And while the Gym Dogs were busy taking care of business on bars, Utah got off to an impressive start of its own on floor.

Although that has been a tough event for Utah all season, Nicolle Ford and Kristina Basket proved why they are such valuable pieces to the team by scoring back-to-back 9.9s before Ashley Postell applied the finishing touch to a total score of 49.375 with a near-perfect routine that resulted in a 9.950.

With Georgia rotating to beam, Utah lined up six great vault scores one after the other and finished with a 49.375. By Georgia’s standards, the team struggled a bit on beam, which sent the Gym Dogs and Red Rocks into the second of their two respective byes with a tie for first place after two events.

Whether it was pressure, or stiffness from the rest period, Utah and Georgia both came out flat to start each team’s third rotation.

But after both clubs suffered slip-ups to start bars and floor respectively, the two teams responded in different fashions.

Although floor hasn’t been Georgia’s strong suit all season long, the Bulldogs reeled off five straight scores of 9.9 or higher, including a 9.925 from Tiffany Tolnay and yet another 9.950 from All-Around National Champion Courtney Kupets.

The Utes did not fair as well on one of their main moneymaking events.

Utah put up respectable scores, despite having a near fall from Nina Kim and a complete fall from Daria Bijak — but nothing could compete with what Georgia was doing on floor.

Going into the last rotation, Georgia’s dominance coupled with Utah’s stumble, stretched the Gym Dogs’ lead to more than a half point going into one of Georgia’s strongest events — vault.

Utah, on the other hand, found itself in a dogfight for second place and even trailed the Gators by .1 of a point entering the beam portion of its rotation.

To the Utes’ credit, they did not panic, nor did they get discouraged when first place was all but out of reach going into the last rotation.

“We were all disappointed,” U head coach Greg Marsden said. “We’re all competitors and we know what it takes at the Championships, but I can’t say how proud I was. I know they were disappointed, especially the people that had problems on bars, but everybody went to balance beam, marched through, and did an incredible job, came back, and somehow still got second.”

The Utes posted their highest cumulative event score of the night on beam behind terrific routines from the whole team, including Kim’s score of 9.9 and Postell’s score of 9.925 in the last spot in the U lineup.

Postell’s score combined with Florida gymnast Melanie Sinclair’s score of 9.875 on bars narrowly gave Utah the second-place trophy by .025 of a point.

Even though the Utes would not find out until late that they had captured second place, the emotion of competing as a team in the Huntsman Center for the last time hit Ford hard emotionally.

“Everybody was in tears after we got done,” Ford said. “And not the bad kind either. We were just so happy. It was like a mix of sadness that that was the last time that I would be competing in this arena. (But) we were just so happy that this team has finally come together in the last few weeks.”

While it was still disappointing for the Utes not to claim a national championship at home, the Utes were able to find plenty of moral victories to boost their spirits a bit.

“We had a chance and didn’t get it done,” Marsden said. “But I’m really proud of this team. A few months ago I didn’t think we were going to get out of Regionals. From a coaching perspective, that’s extremely rewarding to see the team come so far and so close.”

Utah went from a team that struggled to put together a full performance to a team that posted three straight scores over 197.250 to end the season. All six freshmen gained valuable experience out of competing at Nationals for the first time, and it wasn’t too late for Marsden to reflect on how that could possibly help his team get over the top next year.

“I hope the (freshmen) learn something from this year and will pick up and continue into the offseason and next year,” Marsden said. “That would be the great lesson from this, if we do work as a team and work towards a common goal. We lose a great athlete in Nicolle, but we get some great recruits coming back.”

Fittingly, Georgia, Utah and Florida finished first, second and third respectively, which is exactly how the coaches voted they would finish in the preseason polls.

With Georgia and Utah basically returning the same lineups they displayed at Nationals this year in 2008, it wouldn’t be surprising to see these two teams duke it out again when Nationals is held in Georgia’s home arena next spring.

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