Gainesville, Fla. » Just when it seemed Utah's gymnastics team had tamed the balance beam, it shook the Utes off like an ornery bronco that was just waiting for them to let down their guard. It stomped their hopes of an NCAA Championship in the dust for good measure.
The Utes knew they had to be perfect Friday to have any shot of winning their first crown since 1995. Instead they slipped from that goal, suffering two falls and a major break on the balance beam.
The mistakes left the Utes (19-10) in sixth place with a 196.225 while UCLA won the title with a 197.725.
The finish was the Utes' lowest since they were sixth in 2004. Since then the Utes have finished third twice and second three times.
"We were just on fire on bars, I couldn't have been more pleased," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "Then we went to beam and rushed things. They were just rushing things and trying too hard, which is what we've been known to do on that event."
Chances are the Utes wouldn't have won anyway because they were in third after the first rotation despite a very respectable 49.3 on the uneven bars with every gymnast scoring 9.8 or higher.
The effort simply wasn't good enough to match the fireworks UCLA was setting off on the vault, and Oklahoma's effort on the floor.
The Bruins started with a 49.475 on the vault and the Sooners, making their first appearance in the Super Six, started with a 49.425 on the floor. Alabama, Stanford and host Florida all had small breaks that put them behind the three leaders.
The Utes' solid opening left them with a strong chance of finishing among the top three, which would have been a satisfying accomplishment given the inconsistent season the Utes have experienced, but the balance beam wiped out that hope.
"That is gymnastics," senior Annie DiLuzio said. "Yesterday there were falls and tonight there were falls. It was really hard but it was good to have a bye right after beam for us to get back up. Nobody thought we'd be at nationals anyway and we wanted to just enjoy the moment and the team."
If there was any positive to take from the Utes' effort Friday, it is that they didn't let the poor performance on the balance beam ruin their other events. The Utes posted a 49.225 on the floor and finished with a 49.275 on the vault.
"I couldn't be more proud of the team and the way they came back and finished the meet," Marsden said. "It was a difficult situation, we were disappointed, but I'm glad we had the bye to gather ourselves and come back out and finish it off like Utes."
While the Utes were struggling to a bittersweet ending, the Bruins continued their tear through the competition to claim their first title since 2004. The Bruins have failed to qualify for the Super Six the last two years.
Prior to Friday's competition, UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field talked about the Bruins' efforts to be among the elite again as a "hard road," but they made their path to the title look easy and smooth Friday.
The Bruins never trailed, never suffered any breaks and never showed any of the nerves that their competitors did.
Kondos Field said her team's goal from the start of the season was to not have any regrets, and they maintained that focus through the year and through the final night.
"This championship means a lot more to me than the other five did because the other five came in one quick succession, it was basically one team," Kondos Field said. "To go down and literally build back up was very rewarding as a coach."
Florida, the host team, seemed to crumple under the pressure of competing at home and suffered several mistakes and was never in the race for the title after the first rotation.
"All season long they weren't bothered by pressure at all, and this weekend they had a different look on their faces," Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said. "They were uptight and that pressure got to them."
In short » The Utes have a chance at a podium spot, but mistakes on the balance beam drop them out of the running.
Key moment » Daria Bijak and Jamie Deetscreek suffer back-to-back falls on the beam to force the Utes to count a low score.
Key stat » Utah goes from having the highest balance beam score in the afternoon preliminaries (49.25) to the lowest team score Friday.
|Event||Team total||High scorer|
|Uneven bars||49.3||Daria Bijak, 9.9|
|Balance beam||48.425||Kyndal Robarts, 9.9|
|Floor||49.225||Annie DiLuzio, 9.9|
|Vault||49.275||Daria Bijak, 9.925|