The team beat out UCLA in total scores for the final qualifying spot.
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Lincoln, Neb. » The tears streamed down Kristina Baskett's face as she tried to accept an impossible thought -- all those hopes of winning a national title were gone; she wouldn't even get to compete for one tonight.
As for the T-shirts the Utes have been sporting all season that say "2009 national champions," shirts she and fellow senior Nina Kim designed for the team, suddenly she felt smothered under the burden of her own expectations.
"We'd worked our butts off all year and to see all that go away, it was hard to take," she said.
It was hard to take, until she found out the scores she and the rest of the Utes had done in their heads were wrong and the Utes had won the tiebreaker -- not UCLA -- to advance to tonight's Super Six finals.
Relief and exhaustion swept over the Utes on Thursday when the scores were announced and they learned their hopes of winning their first gymnastics national title since 1995 are alive.
"It's like a new day," Kim said.
After tying UCLA for the third and last qualifying spot with a 196.625 on Thursday, the teams' total scores were added, including the dropped scores on each event. Doing so gave the Utes the advantage, 234.650 to UCLA's 234.575.
As Utah coach Greg Marsden said, it wasn't how the Utes imagined qualifying for tonight after a dominating season, but it's a scenario the gymnasts are embracing now.
"We feel very grateful, very blessed to have a second chance," Kim said. "Maybe we needed that to bring us together."
Thursday was the second time the Utes have been involved in a tiebreaker to reach the Super Six. In 1997, Utah lost one to Nebraska.
"It feels much better to win it than lose it," Marsden said.
The Utes will compete tonight against Georgia, Florida, LSU, Alabama and Arkansas for the national title. Alabama won the evening session with a 197.025 followed by Arkansas at 196.950. Georgia had the high score of 197.450, in afternoon competition.
Acknowledging she was emotionally spent, Baskett said she and her teammates wouldn't have a problem finding the energy to give it their best tonight. They're all seasoned competitors who know second chances rarely are given.
"We are going to be even more emotionally excited because we are going to be there," she said. "I'm going to sleep hard tonight knowing I get to be out there tomorrow."
How is this for adding to the second chance? The Utes start tonight's competition on the balance beam, the event that almost eliminated them Thursday.
Both Jamie Deetscreek and Gael Mackie fell off the beam, resulting in a 48.775 team score -- the second-lowest effort of the season. That low score put the Utes in fourth after two rotations. The rest of the night, every time it seemed they would catch UCLA, something bad would happen to negate a good effort. Annie DiLuzio fell on floor, Kim had a break in her floor routine and Utah's vault landings weren't clean.
The best vault score came at the end, when Baskett pulled out a 9.95 that created the tie. It also gave her second place in the all-around behind Georgia's Courtney Kupets with a 39.6 to Kupets' 39.8.
She was wishing for one more tenth, though, believing the Utes had lost the tiebreaker.
"My heart just sank. I couldn't even feel myself," Baskett said.
Now the Utes are determined to make the best of their performance today.
"We made some uncharacteristic mistakes," Marsden said. "I hope we are relaxed and can be more characteristic tomorrow. We are going to enjoy tonight and be happy we made it and talk about our approach tomorrow."
In brief » The Utes advance to the Super Six when they tie UCLA for third in evening competition and win the tiebreaker, in which all six scores on each event are counted together.
Key stat » Utah's beam score (48.775) is its second-lowest beam score of the season.
Key moment » Kristina Baskett scores a 9.95 on the vault to earn second in the all-around and tie UCLA.
Afternoon » Georgia (197.450), Florida (196.375), LSU (196.300), Stanford (196.225)*, Penn State (196.100)*, Oklahoma (195.825)*
Evening » Alabama (197.025), Arkansas (196.950), Utah (196.625), UCLA (196.625)*, Oregon State (195.350)*, Illinois (195.050)*
* -- Failed to qualify for Super Six
The tie between Utah and UCLA was broken when all six scores from each event were added together. Here is how the teams from Utah's session stack up using that format:
1. Alabama 235.675
2. Arkansas 235.300
3. Utah 234.650
4. UCLA 234.575
5. Oregon State 233.250
6. Illinois 233.075