AUBURN, Ala. - Once again, it didn't end the way the Utah Utes wanted it to.
Utah finished third Friday in the NCAA Gymnastics Championships team competition, scoring a 197.275. The national title went to Georgia, which scored a 197.825, followed by Alabama with a 197.4.
The Utes, whose sights were set on winning the national championship after posting the high score of 196.850 in Thursday's afternoon qualifying session, took sixth the last two years after suffering falls on the uneven bars. This time, the Utes didn't have a fall, but simply weren't good enough to keep up with Georgia, which conquered the balance beam in its first rotation then continued to get stronger.
"We didn't have a perfect night, but we were good," sophomore Nicolle Ford said. "I don't know if we could have done much better than we did. This is a much different feeling this year than last year. Of course we're disappointed we didn't win, but we have to be happy with it."
Two-time defending champ UCLA was fourth (197.15), Michigan was fifth (196.575) and Nebraska was sixth (196.425).
The title was Georgia's sixth, moving the Gym Dogs into second behind Utah's 10 national titles. Georgia is the first 12th seed to win a national title. The Gym Dogs suffered three falls at regionals, and only advanced to the NCAAs because Denver had three falls on the beam as well.
"We knew lightning wouldn't strike twice," Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan said. "We didn't make a big deal about regionals. We just shut the doors to the gym and focused on the team and what we needed to do for nationals."
Utah's goal was to go through the meet without a fall. The Utes accomplished that, but the feat was matched by most teams. Out of the 144 routines performed Friday, there were only three falls, two by UCLA and one by Nebraska, and none of the teams counted falls.
"You want to go into the meet and not give it away and make a team be very, very good to beat you, and we did that," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "That is all you can ask of a team."
Utah opened on the floor, following the two-time defending champ Bruins, who minutes earlier rocked the event for a 49.5, including a 10.0 from Kristen Maloney.
Following the Bruins and their routines jam-packed with big tricks may have hurt the Utes, who didn't have any major mistakes, but weren't as clean as the Bruins.
Utah scored a 49.275 on the floor, with Gritt Hofmann getting a team-high 9.9. For comparison, UCLA averaged a 9.9 on the event.
The Utes improved on vault, scoring a 49.375, with Rachel Tidd and Ashley Postell both scoring 9.9s. But again, it wasn't enough to match the Bruins, who scored a 49.45, with four scores of 9.9 or better.
Georgia, meanwhile, grew stronger after opening with a 49.35 on the beam. The Gym Dogs overtook the Bruins after scoring 49.525 on the floor and a 49.575 on the vault.
Utah earned a 49.375 on the bars, matching Georgia for the the best score on the event of the night. But unfortunately for the Utes, the scores on the other events started to rise as well, so the Utes only maintained their spot instead of gaining.
One of the teams threatening the Utes was Alabama, which, backed by the loudest crowd in the arena, earned a 49.6 on the floor, the night's best.
Alabama finished out with a 49.625 on the vault to edge the Utes for second, who finished with a 49.25 on the beam, second-best on the event to Georgia.
"It was so loud and there was so much going on, but we rocked it," senior Annabeth Eberle said. "I thought we were a little tight on floor, because we wanted it so bad. But we got stronger through the night, and beam was awesome. We don't have any regrets, the whole season was pretty amazing."
Utah could have tied the Tide for second if Postell, the anchor on the beam, had scored a 9.875. But she scored just 9.725, her second-lowest score of the season. It was the low score for the Utes, and was thrown out in favor of a 9.75 from leadoff Gabi Onodi.
However, it was a wonder Postell could compete at all after she banged her heel on the balance beam during warmups.
She kept heat on it when she wasn't competing, but never thought about pulling herself out of the lineup knowing the Utes needed her.
"I didn't let myself think about how bad it was," she said.
IN SHORT: Utah finishes third, its best showing since taking second in 2000.
KEY STAT: Georgia averaged a 9.89 per routine to win its first national title since 1999.
KEY MOMENT: Utah needed a 9.875 on the balance beam from Ashley Postell to tie Alabama for second. Her 9.725 was thrown out in favor of a 9.75 from Gabi Onodi.