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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Utah, Stanford and UCLA round out Super Six teams in prelim nightcap

By Tony Pizza

For most of the 2007 regular season, Utah has had to deal with the lingering question: Will Utah make it to the Super Six of the Nationals it is hosting?

The Utes left no question that they belonged in the Super Six on Thursday night.

Utah finished first in the evening session of the NCAA National Championship preliminary round with its second straight postseason score of 197.325. Stanford and UCLA, with scores of 197.200 and 196.475 respectively, were the other two teams to advance out of the evening session to Friday night’s final.

For the Utes, it has been somewhat of an arduous trek to get to this point in the season. The Red Rocks hadn’t even posted a score above the 197-point mark until the West Regional on April 14, but to their credit, they did wake up in the nick of time. Now with Utah having put together two strong performances in the postseason, combined with the fact it will have the largest fan base backing them Friday night, the Utes have to have their name thrown into the ring as one of the favorites to finish the 2007 season with a national championship trophy in hand.

Although UCLA hasn’t quite advanced toward its peak like Utah has, the Bruins have had a similar season to Utah’s.

The Bruins started out the season depleted with injuries, but have hit their stride in the post season. Even so, UCLA did not have its birth to the Super Six wrapped up until Anna Li finished her bars routine, basically mistake free, for a score of 9.9.

“We knew exactly what we had to do (on bars),” UCLA head coach Valarie Kondos Field said. “We knew if we competed like we had all season that we would advance.”

The Bruins also got a boost from all-arounder Tasha Schwikert, who had the benefit of knowing what kind of score she had to put up on beam to help her team clinch a Super Six birth.

“It felt awesome,” Schwikert said. “We knew as a team exactly what we had to do. As athletes, we did the math in our heads. We focused on hitting?clean routines.”

Stanford also looked like a team deserving of its advancement to the championship finals.

Although the Cardinal, like all other teams, did not open up the preliminary round the exactly the way they wanted to, they quickly bounced back in the second rotation with an outstanding showing on vault.

Four Cardinal gymnasts posted scores of 9.9 or higher, including Liz Tricase’s 9.95 to help Stanford to accumulate a 49.525 on vault, which tied Georgia for the highest score of vault this season.

“Vault all year hasn’t exactly been one of our best events, so for us to come out tonight at a National Championship and to perform the way we did…was incredibly exciting,” Stanford head coach Kristen Smyth said. “It was bound to happen and we just picked the right time.”

Utah also used the tongue to its advantage as it posted a team season-high of 49.500. After the bye, the Utes duplicated that score on the uneven bars as well, which put the host in position to finish first in the preliminary round if they could only finish strong on beam.

The Utes score of 49.200 wasn’t the highest score of the competition, but it was good enough to ignite the crowd when Utah was announced the winner shortly after the competition had ended.

Failing to advance to the Super Six was Denver, Michigan and, most surprisingly, Louisiana State.

The Tigers did not look sharp from the get-go, and they proved to have almost a complete shutdown in the postseason after ending the regular season as the No. 4 ranked team in the country.

Michigan also had a poor showing, and beam seemed to be its undoing as the Wolverines basically threw in the towel after Huneth Lor and Clare Flannery both had dreadful times trying to stay on the four-inch-wide apparatus.

Still, with Utah, Stanford and UCLA advancing, the final day of team competition is shaping up to be an exciting one.

Florida will attempt to become only the fifth different team to win a women’s gymnastics national championship and three of the four teams that already own one will try and stop them.

Georgia will look to muster up the strength it showed in the prelim round one last time, while trying to become the first team to three-peat since Utah accomplished that feat in 1986.

Utah will try to end its 11-year national title dry spell behind the wave of the most supportive fans in college gymnastics, while UCLA will also try and regain the spot it held just two years ago on top of the gymnastics world.

Although Stanford and Nebraska have yet to taste the thrill of a national championship either, there is nothing signaling these two teams won’t be in the mix.

The competition gets underway at 7 p.m. and the individual finals will be held at the same time on Saturday night.

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