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Vituj leads Ute gymnasts to victory

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The waiting game finally paid off for Melissa Vituj.

Shortly after arriving at the University of Utah last season she developed into a three-event star, garnering all-American honors on vault, beam and floor. Unfortunately, her bars routine wasn't quite good enough to let her chase all-around glory.

That may have changed forever Friday night at the Huntsman Center.

Competing in her first all-around, the Ute sophomore tallied a 39.575 to lead the fourth-ranked Utes to a 197.15-196.10 victory over No. 7 Arizona.

"I was very excited coming in, having my first all-around to count," said Vituj. "I was overwhelmed with emotion."

Vituj's exploits came on a night when virtually everyone was doing great gymnastics.

Most notably was Ute stud Theresa Kulikowski.

After falling off bars and bruising her knee last week, no one would've faulted her for being a little tentative Friday night. But Kulikowski is much too emotionally strong to let a little bump slow her down. She simply went out and recorded her fifth career 10 on bars.

"I think you're amazed every time she steps on the competition floor," said Ute coach Greg Marsden. "She's a very unique athlete."

So unique in fact, she followed her perfection up with a 9.95 on beam and a 9.95 on floor. Kulikowski's floor routine was easily her highlight.

After winning the all-around national title as a freshman in 1999, Kulikowski tore her ACL in the second meet of her sophomore season. She redshirted that year, and returned in 2001 in a limited capacity on beam and bars.

Friday night was her first floor routine in nearly two years.

"I was just really excited to do it," said Kulikowski. "I just got out there and showed off."

One of the judges awarded Kulikowski a 10, but the other was booed loudly when she posted a 9.9.

With a successful floor routine under her belt, Kulikowski is just a vault away from getting back in the all-around.

"This puts her right on pace to get back in the all-around," said Marsden.

She'll have a lot of company when she gets there.

Along with Vituj, Vernique Leclerc also made her all-around debut, and finished third with a 39.525. Arizona's Randi Liljenquist finished second with a 39.55. All three were tied going into the final rotation.

Deidra Graham was fourth with a 39.325 and Shannon Bowles was fifth, with an impressive 39.0 when considered she fell on vault to open the meet.

Vault turned out to be the only downer on an otherwise brilliant evening for Utah. Marsden didn't seem too concerned about Utah's 48.5 vault score after the meet.

"I'm looking for a new vault coach," joked Marsden, Utah's vault specialist. "I think I have to fire the one we have now."

The Utes will try and work out the kinks for next Friday's home meet against Minnesota. It will be Utah's final home meet until March 9.


E-mail: jedward@desnews.com