College Gymnastics: Close as it gets

Top-ranked Gym Dogs edge Utes
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No. 1 Georgia 197.1, No. 6 Utah 197.075

Ashley Postell used all of her big tricks, Nicolle Ford upgraded her floor routine and all of Utah's top gymnasts performed in the all-around. The sixth-ranked University of Utah's gymnastics team tried everything it could to beat top-ranked Georgia Monday. It failed, by the slimmest of margins, .025.

"Not even half a step," muttered Ford.

Georgia, making its first appearance in Salt Lake for a dual meet since 1991, edged Utah 197.1-197.075 in front of 13,809 fans. It wasn't the sellout the Utes had hoped for, but everything else lived up to expectations. Well, except maybe the end.

Utah held a .025 edge over the Gym Dogs going into the final rotation, where the Utes ended on floor and Georgia was on the beam. Being on the adrenaline driven event makes it virtually impossible for a visiting team to overtake the home team. Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan was thinking of that scenario when she said just before the third rotation that the meet would be won or lost there.

She was wrong, as Georgia scored a season-high 49.375 on the beam while Utah finished with a 49.325 on the floor.

It was the second time Georgia has come from behind to win. At Alabama, the Gym Dogs were down .05 going into the final rotation and won.

"I love it when I'm wrong," Yoculan said. "I thought if we were ahead after floor, then the door would be slammed shut on 'Utah". I told the team to show they are a championship caliber team, and that's exactly what they did tonight."

Utah's only major mistake on floor came from Nicolle Ford, who hasn't fallen in the 32 routines she has performed this year. But she came close Monday, landing a pass low and scoring a season low 9.6.

The fans booed her score, but she didn't argue it. "I almost fell on my face," she said.

After Ashley Postell posted a 9.9, Utah could have tied the Gym Dogs if Gritt Hofmann had scored a 9.925.

Hofmann, whose season high is a 9.875, hit her routine but earned a 9.9.

"I knew if I hit, it would be close," she said. "I thought it would have been enough."

Monday's result is the kind of meet in which teams can spend a week saying "what if?"

If Ford had come close to her average on floor, or if Utah's first few bars routines had been cleaner, or if Hofmann hadn't fallen off the beam or if the Utes had done a better job sticking their landings, Utah would be the team with the perfect record instead of Georgia.

Of course, the Gym Dogs had their own problems. One gymnast fell off the bars, vault anchor Tiffany Tolnay took a big step on the vault and tied her season low with a 9.85 and Katie Heenan, the last up on floor, stepped out on a tumbling pass and scored a season low 9.7.

So what was settled? Well, Georgia is still unbeaten, but maybe not unbeatable, and the Utes may have the talent to win a national title.

"I hope they take from this a feeling that they're right there, with possibly enough discontent to make a final push in the last six weeks of the season," said Utah coach Greg Marsden of his gymnasts. Georgia "is talented and deep, but anybody is beatable, and we were close enough that maybe we are capable of that."

Yoculan said the meet was one of Georgia's best of the year, but said her team hasn't come close to peaking and estimated the Gym Dogs are about 80 percent of their potential.

"We never go into any meet with hopes of winning, we expect to win," Yoculan said. "This is a team that has talked about going undefeated, and Utah wasn't going to deny us an undefeated season."

After losing in Athens last year, Ford and some of the other gymnasts said they couldn't wait to get Georgia in their gym. They did, and the result was the same. Now the Utes are looking ahead to April.

"We want to compete against the best teams because it keeps you on edge," Postell said. "But that's definitely a team we want to see at nationals."

Utah opened with a 49.35 on the vault while Georgia had a 49.025 on the bars. The Gym Dogs made up ground on the second rotation, scoring a 49.5 on the vault while Utah had a 49.2 on the bars, leaving Utah with a .025 advantage.

Utah kept that margin until the final rotation.

"There was no real reason to be upset, I'm proud of the effort," Marsden said.

IN SHORT: Georgia came from behind to win for the second time this year.

KEY MOMENT: As the last competitor of the night, Gritt Hofmann needed a 9.925 to tie Georgia. She hit her routine, but received just 9.9.

KEY STAT: Georgia trailed Utah for two rotations by .025, and beat the Utes by the same margin.