ATHENS, Ga. - Utah's gymnastics team was good enough Thursday to advance to tonight's Super Six at the NCAA Championships, but being good won't be enough if the Utes want to realize their dreams of winning a national title.
The Utes learned that Thursday, as host Georgia looked almost unbeatable as it posted a 197.625 for the highest qualifying score of the day. Utah finished with a 196.950 competing in the evening session with Georgia.
The Utes aren't conceding defeat yet, but the realization of just how hard it is going to be to beat three-time defending champion Georgia on its own floor set in with a glance up at the scores after Thursday's preliminary competition.
"It's going to be hard, difficult, and it's political, too," said Ute senior Ashley Postell, who finished second in the all-around for the third year in a row. "It's going to be tough and it's going to depend on who can compete well two days in a row and who can bring it."
Joining Utah and Georgia in the Super Six is Stanford, which qualified from the evening session with a 196.900.
Advancing out of the afternoon session were Florida (196.900), Alabama (196.650) and LSU (196.575).
Missing the cut from the evening were UCLA (196.725), Michigan (196.075) and Denver (194.200). Eliminated from the afternoon were Oklahoma (196.075), Arkansas (195.825) and Oregon State (195.475).
Despite Thursday's comfortable margin, Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan wasn't convinced her team could duplicate it tonight.
"So much of winning a national championship is having momentum and having that momentum just keep building," she said. "We had a peak performance tonight, no question about that. It was pretty much a championship night for us, and the gap will be a lot smaller tomorrow."
The Utes know all about small gaps after Thursday, as they spent most of the competition in third, just ahead of UCLA. They needed a big score on vault, their final event, to advance. They got it with a 49.4, as Kristina Baskett and Kyndal Robarts led with 9.95 and 9.9, respectively. The score was enough for the Utes to overtake Stanford and finish second in the evening session.
The only disappointment in the rotation came when Postell took a step on her landing and scored 9.875. She needed a 9.925 to tie UCLA's Tasha Schwikert for the all-around title. Schwikert won it with a 39.6 while Postell finished with a 39.55.
"The only thing that matters is we qualified as a team," Postell said as she tried to hide her disappointment.
The Utes opened with a 49.3 on the uneven bars and followed with a 49.05 on the balance beam. Their only real trouble came on floor where leadoff Katie Kivisto fell and scored just 9.225.
The rest of the team did well enough to score a 49.2.
"I was proud of them," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "Katie falling put a lot of pressure on people and we are doing a lot of big stuff they can miss."
The Utes know they have to have a better performance tonight, but they feel capable of delivering one, junior Nina Kim said.
"I know we can fix up some things; we were rushing just to try and qualify," she said. "Especially after floor we were a little tight."
As Thursday's preliminary competition showed, the Utes don't have just Georgia to worry about tonight as several teams posted similar scores to the Utes'. They also felt they could bring a better performance to the floor tonight.
Florida, which spent much of 2007 ranked No. 1 but finished third at the NCAAs, sounded confident after posting the highest score in Thursday's afternoon session. Coach Rhonda Faehn said her team was healthier and more relaxed than ever going into the Super Six, thoughts that were echoed by gymnast Melanie Sinclair.
"I think we're going to pull it out," she said. "We trained for it and we feel good."
Note: Top 3 teams advance to finals
1, Florida, 196.9 points. 2, Alabama, 196.65. 3, LSU, 196.575. 4, Oklahoma, 106.075. 5, Arkansas, 195.825. 6, Oregon State, 195.475.
1, Georgia, 197.625. 2, Utah, 196.95. 3, Stanford, 196.9. 4, UCLA, 196.725. 5, Michigan, 196.075. 6, Denver, 194.2.
1.Tasha Schwikert, UCLA, 39.6 2, Ashley Postell, Utah, 39.55. 3, tie, Katie Heenan, Georgia, 39.525. Tiffany Tolnay, Georgia, 39.525. Kristina Baskett, Utah, 39.525. Melanie Sinclair, Florida, 39.525 points.
* IN SHORT: The Utes finish second in the evening session and qualify for tonight's Super Six with a 196.950 score.
* KEY MOMENT: Ashley Postell needs a 9.925 on vault to tie for the all-around title, but takes a step and scores a 9.875 to finish second.
* KEY STAT: Utah needs a big score on the vault to clinch a spot in tonight's competition, and comes through with a 49.4.
Super Six schedule
Where: Athens, Ga.;
When: Today, 4 p.m.;
Teams: Florida, LSU, Alabama, Georgia, Utah, Stanford
Full team results
Thursday At Athens, Ga. Vault: 1, Arkansas, 49.15 points. 2, Alabama, 49.125. 3, Florida, 49.1. 4, LSU, 49.05. 5, Oklahoma, 48.775. 6, Oregon State, 48.725. Uneven Bars: 1, LSU, 49.45. 2, Florida, 49.3. 3, Alabama, 49.325. 4, Oregon State, 49.15. 5, Arkansas, 49.125. 6, Oklahoma, 49.125. Balance beam: 1, Florida, 48.975. 2, Oklahoma, 48.95. 3, Alabama, 48.85. 4, LSU, 48.825. 5, Oregon State, 48.75. 6, Arkansas, 48.575. Floor: 1, Florida, 49.525. 2, Alabama, 49.3. 3, LSU, 49.25. 4, Oklahoma, 49.225. 5, Arkansas, 48.975. 6, Oregon State, 48.85. Second session Vault: 1, Utah, 49.4. 2, Georgia, 49.375. 3, UCLA, 49.25. 4, Stanford, 49.2. 5, Michigan, 48.95. 6, Denver, 48.65. Uneven bars: 1, Georgia, 49.5. 2, UCLA, 49.475. 3, Michigan, 49.375. 4, Stanford, 49.325. 5, Utah, 49.3. 6, Denver, 48.85. Balance beam: 1, Georgia, 49.35. 2, Stanford, 49.2. 3, Utah, 49.05. 4, UCLA, 48.8. 5, Michigan, 48.65. 6, Denver, 47.95. Floor: 1, Georgia, 49.4. 2, tie, UCLA, 49.2, and Utah, 49.2. 4, Stanford, 49.175. 5, Michigan, 49.1. 6, Denver, 48.775.