All week, Georgia and Utah have been talking about which women's gymnastics team was the best on paper. They finally held the meet, and Utah used that paper to write one of the best endings it's ever had to a season, winning its eighth national championship with senior Missy Marlowe going out with the NCAA all-around title and record score (39.65, her career high) to boot.

Utah scored an NCAA Championships-record of 195.65 to outdistance Georgia (194.6) and defending-champion Alabama (193.35) Friday night at St. Paul Civic Center in front of 6,670. Utah has won seven NCAA team titles and eight national championships overall. Marlowe's all-around title is the fourth for the Utes (Sue Stednitz in 1982, Megan Marsden in 1983 and 1984).Add to that injured senior Shelly Schaerrer withstanding the pain of a sprained ankle to not only land a perfect dismount from bars but to also look good enough to have gotten a couple of 10.0 scores from the judges. Her actual score was 9.9 to tie her career high and spur Utah to an NCAA Championships record of 49.4 on bars.

"Just a storybook ending for the team to win after all they've been through," said Ute coach Greg Marsden, referring to a season-ending injury to all-arounder Suzanne Metz and the injury to Schaerrer that reduced one of the NCAA's best all-arounders to one event in her final meet ever.

"And for the young kids who had been in the shadows for so long to step forward and show what they could do," said Marsden, naming off Jenny Donaldson, Tracy Richard, Missy Wells, Meredith King, Aimee Trepanier and Kelli Wolsey. "They've probably seen their names in print maybe once. I kinda feel this was their championship," said Marsden.

It was that support that gave Utah the strength to hold off hard-charging Georgia, which had a slow start but never gave in and made it close until Sandy Rowlette, a 9.9 vaulter all season, fell twice as Georgia's No. 5 competitor in its last event.

Marlowe followed her with a 9.95 on floor exercise in Utah's final event of the night while her main competition for the all-around title, Georgia's Heather Stepp, scored 9.875 in vaulting for a 39.45 total.Perhaps that was fate. Bruce Springsteen filmed his "Born in the USA" video - that's the music Marlowe performs to - right in the St. Paul Civic Center.

Marlowe's 9.975 on bars, following Schaerrer's gutsy performance and a 9.85 by Kristen Kenoyer, was the night's highest scored. Her 9.9 was the best beam score of the night, and her 9.95 score on floor was tops in that event as well as the night's second-highest score in any event.

"I was scared out of my mind every routine. People were depending on me," said Marlowe, but she added, "No way was I going to go out not being aggressive.

"The only other time I ever felt like this," said Marlowe, "was the Olympic Trials, when I knew that could very well be my last meet. I thought it was," Marlowe said. Those trials were in 1988 in Salt Lake City, and she became an Olympian that night with a herculean effort that was comparable to the night she had Friday.

"A great final chapter," said Marsden of Marlowe's "storybook career. I've never had anybody work so hard for something," he added.

"It's something you dream about but are too afraid to hope they could come through," said Marlowe, choking with emotion in the news conference with her teammates standing behind her.

"I don't think pain has ever felt so good," said Schaerrer about her landing. "The fact the other kids could step up and contribute made me not feel so guilty," said Schaerrer, who didn't know until last week if she'd even be able to try bars and didn't know until she hit the mat if she could withstand the force of the dismount. "I've been very worried for a long time," said Schaerrer. "I felt pain, but it just felt good to be on my feet."

"You don't appreciate what it took in terms of fortitude for her to do that dismount and stick it," said Marsden.

Marlowe said Schaerrer's leg swelled like a balloon the week after the injury at the WAC championship March 28, an injury that could have ended her career. "She was devastated, but she's a fighter," Marlowe said of her teammate.

To Marsden, this championship reminded him a great deal of the 1983 title, when Utah went in ranked third after having lost Stednitz in the regional to what turned out to be a career-ending injury.

"Nobody gave us a chance because of that," he said.

Friday night in Minnesota, Utah had the bye in the first round while Georgia and Alabama had to start on balance beam. The Tide had three falls and scored 47.675, and Georgia scored 48.25, also with three falls.

"They both swung the door open for us on the first event," said Marsden, adding he was glad Utah started on vault, where you get two chances. The Utes had several falls, most of which didn't have to be counted because they landed second vaults. Marsden said there's so much pent-up energy prior to the meet everyone has a tendency to be tight. Vault allows second chances; other events don't. The others were in a hole to begin, he said, "and unless we made some major mistakes," the Utes were in control.

They nearly did falter on balance beam with three falls, two on one routine, but Jenny Donaldson scored 9.275 despite the fall.

Marlowe made tonight's individual-event finals in all four events, Donaldson and Schaerrer will compete for national titles on bars, Kenoyer on bars and floor and Trepanier on floor.

For Schaerrer, it means a chance to land on that ankle once again.

Kenoyer finished fourth in the all-around with 39.225, and Donaldson (37.95) was 24th.

BRIGHAM YOUNG - The Cougars, the highest-ranked team in the afternoon session, flailed their way to their fourth-lowest score of the season, five points below their Regional Qualifying Score and four points below their National Qualifying Score. They were last in the session at 187.7 for last place in the 12-team meet.

Senior Korie Jackman paced the Cougars with a 27th-place 37.775 in the all-around, followed by Carrie Burk at 37.475.

"We took a calculated risk that didn't pan out," said coach Brad Cattermole, who peaked his team for the WAC meet and Midwest Regional to ensure that it would have a high enough score to make it to the NCAA finals.

"We attempted to peak at the end of the season and hold it through nationals, and it didn't work," Cattermole said. "It was more my fault," he said, but he added he'd have done the same if he had it to do again because of BYU's uncertain status. He said the best Russian gymnasts can hold their peak for six weeks, and BYU tried to hold it for four and couldn't.

"I'm not making excuses for a performance we weren't all that happy with," said Cattermole.

The Cougars competed in Olympic rotation, vault, bars, beam and floor, and Cattermole said starting on vault, not one of the Cougs' best events, didn't help, though they scored 47.175, second-highest event score of the night for them. Only floor was higher.