Second nature: Utah gymnastics team is once again the runner-up to Georgia
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ATHENS, Ga. - In discussing the 2008 NCAA Championships, Utah's gymnasts thought they'd be disappointed with a second-place finish, until they had to give everything they had to just hang onto second place.

The Utes finished second for the third season in a row to Georgia in the NCAA Championships on Friday. Georgia scored a 197.450 to win the title in its own arena in front of a crowd of 8,755, while the Utes finished with a 197.125 to take second. Third went to Stanford (196.750), which was followed by Florida (196.700), LSU (196.350) and Alabama (196.125).

But instead of tears over being the bridesmaid once again, the Utes celebrated the trophy they've grown very familiar with recently.

"I'm actually not sad like I thought I would be," junior Nina Kim said. "I thought I was going to be bawling after, but I keep thinking about the positives we did tonight and last night and I can't cry."

Georgia is the first team to win four titles in a row since Utah won five straight starting in 1982.

"It has been a great ride, and I think tonight was a culmination of all four years," Georgia senior Katie Heenan said. "We did it from beginning all the way to the end."

The Utes knew upending Georgia at home would be difficult, so they came into Friday's meet with the goal of doing the best they could and being happy with whatever came. They had to settle for the second-place trophy, and the bit of trivia that they at least produced the smallest margin of victory since 2002, when Alabama beat Georgia 197.525-197.250.

"We already knew coming in what was going to happen tonight," said Ashley Postell, alluding to the advantage Georgia had competing at home. "It just made it easier so we weren't disappointed and we were all excited about the job we did."

Georgia proved the Utes right, opening with a 49.475 on floor and leaving everyone else playing a game of catch-up they probably knew they weren't going to win unless Georgia collapsed. The competition for second, though, wasn't decided until the last rotation.

Utah, which passed Stanford for second midway through the meet, led the Cardinal by just 0.15 going into the final rotation. The Utes finished on the bars, their most inconsistent event, while the Cardinal finished on the vault. LSU was also within a fall of beating the Utes, trailing Utah by just 0.225 and finishing on the balance beam.

The Utes competed unfazed by the pressure they were under, as they finished with a 49.35, led by Postell's 9.95 and 9.9s from Daria Bijak and Kristina Baskett.

"I love this team and I'm proud of them for the whole season," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "It baffles me that we found a way to not count a fall through the entire season and they never gave up, they never caved in, and they were great again tonight."

Marsden is fond of saying that to win a national championship you not only have to be good, it has to be your night, too, one of those nights when everything flows seamlessly. It was evident from the start it wasn't going to be one of those magical nights for the Utes, as both Jamie Deetscreek and Annie DiLuzio had breaks and scored 9.725s on the balance beam. The rest of the lineup finished strong, giving the Utes a 49.1 to start its competition, but it wasn't the kind of big score the Utes wanted to set the tone and they started out in fourth place. Vault has been Utah's standby this season, and it was again Friday. The Utes needed something big to put them back into the race and they got it by scoring a 49.4. The lowest score the Utes counted was a 9.85 and the high was a 9.95 from Postell.

It was enough for the Utes to overtake Stanford, which scored a 49.225 on floor and set the Utes up for their uneven bars performance.

"You always want to win," Marsden said. "But I don't think we could have had a better season or championship. We've set expectations that if we don't win it's a disappointment, and you just can't win all the time."

lwodraska@sltrib.com