Gymnastics: Utah, BYU both forced to rally for NCAA spots

Slow starts: Utes finally get rolling for the win, while the Cougars overtake Oregon State
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After watching his team stumble through its balance beam set, Utah coach Greg Marsden walked into a room with several things to say to his Utes to get them regrouped as they competed in the North Central Region.

His task got a lot easier when he entered the room.

"I got the sense it had already been done," he said. "I don't know by who, but there was a pretty good attitude of determination that it wasn't over."

Well it was, for the rest of the teams anyway. In third place after two rotations, the Utes rebounded to win the region Saturday, posting a 196.8 for its sixth straight region title.

Most importantly, it advances to the NCAA Championships, April 21-23 in Auburn, Ala. Joining the Utes will be Brigham Young, which scored a 195.975 to hold off Oregon State for its first trip to the NCAAs since 2000.

The Beavers finished in third place with a 195.675, followed by Minnesota (193.975), Southern Utah (193.45) and Iowa (192.35).

Utah looked like it was going to give the crowd of 6,313 a ho-hum affair with little drama involving the outcome after opening with a 49.325 on the uneven

bars. But trouble struck on the balance beam when Rachel Tidd fell, scoring just 9.325.

That mistake didn't seem so bad when Nicolle Ford and Annabeth Eberle followed with 9.85s, but then the unimaginable happened, as freshman Ashley Postell, ranked No. 1 on the event, overrotated on her handstand and came off the beam.

Postell, who hit her first 43 routines of the year before falling on the floor at BYU, scored just 9.325, leaving the Utes with a 48.525 beam score.

After the rotation, Utah had a 97.85, to trail BYU (98.05) and stay just ahead of Oregon State (97.7).

"We didn't score as high as we knew we could, and we knew we still had floor and vault to go, but we didn't like that feeling," Eberle said of being behind. "We got together and just knew we had to do well on floor and vault."

There was some nervous rumbling when the scores were announced, but thoughts of an upset were quickly pushed aside when Utah came out of a bye and scored a 49.525 on the floor, putting the Utes ahead for good.

Utah followed that performance with a 49.425 on the vault.

"Having the bye was good," Ford said. "It gave us time to regroup, and there were some of us who really had to relax after beam."

Eberle and Ford finished 1-2 in the all-around, scoring 39.625 and 39.425, respectively.

BYU's Jaime Mabray was third with a 39.275 to lead the Cougars in their upset. BYU scored a 49.25 on the balance beam, the night's best score on the event, to keep the Beavers at bay.

"We put it together the last couple of weeks," BYU coach Brad Cattermole said. "I'm not sure we could have done a whole lot better than we did tonight. Beam was spectacular."

The Cougars are just happy to be a part of the NCAA field, but Utah is going for more. The Utes have held the top ranking in eight of the 12 regular season polls, but were reminded Saturday they aren't invincible.

"We got away with it tonight," Marsden said. "Unless we really came on strong in the last two events, there were two teams that could have passed us and we'd be sitting at home."

Unhappy with the falls on beam, Marsden isn't worried the mistakes are part of a bigger problem.

"For Ashley to miss that is unusual and Rachel was being aggressive," he said. "Sometimes you're just a little off, and it can get away from you quickly."

Notes: Minnesota's Laura Johnson (39.15) and SUU's Leah Sakhitab (38.95) qualified in the all-around as individuals. . . . Utah swept the region awards as Greg Marsden was named the coach of the year, Megan Marsden was named assistant of the year, Ashley Postell was named gymnast of the year.


IN SHORT - As expected, Utah won the region; the surprise of the night was BYU, which edged Oregon State for second.

KEY MOMENT - Trailing after two rotations, Utah scored a 49.525 on the floor to take the lead going into the final rotation.

KEY STAT - Utah senior Annabeth Eberle tied her personal best in the all-around with a 39.625 .