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Georgia's Kat Ding wins NCAA titles on bars, floor

DULUTH, Ga. — Kat Ding waited most of her career to prove she could be more than an uneven bars specialist.

The Georgia senior proved her point in the final routine of her college career.

Ding defended her NCAA women's gymnastics championship on the uneven bars before adding another title on the floor exercise Sunday.

Ding set career highs in each event. It was only the 11th floor exercise competition of her career, due to injuries and her difficulty on the event.

"In all honesty floor has been pretty much one of the hardest events for me," Ding said. "It finally came around this year."

Ding ruptured a tendon in her foot at the end of her sophomore season and had a stress reaction in her femur last year. Each injury helped limit Ding to working on the bars.

"My body is finally pretty much healthy," she said. "All the pieces came together for once. I'm just thankful it came together today."

Ding's big finish to her career helped make up for the Gym Dogs' inability to advance to Saturday's Super Six team final. Georgia was the No. 5 seed but couldn't advance past Friday night's semifinals.

"That was really hard," Ding said. "I wanted that so much for us to be there yesterday. We wanted to be there so bad, so bad."

Ding almost achieved perfection on the uneven bars.

Four of six judges awarded Ding perfect 10s. She drew 9.95s from the other two judges, and her winning average was 9.9875. She won the floor exercise with a score of 9.950. She also finished third on the vault.

Alabama, which won its second straight team championship Saturday, added an individual title when Geralen Stack-Eaton won the balance beam with a 9.9375 score.

Florida's Kytra Hunter won the vault with a 9.875, and Alabama's Diandra Milliner (9.825) was second. Hunter won the all-around championship Friday night, edging Ding.

It was a sweep for the Southeastern Conference in the individual and team competitions. Alabama edged Florida in Saturday's team final. Each of Sunday's four individual championships went to the conference.

Georgia coach Jay Clark noted the top seven individual all-around scores, led by Hunter, were from the SEC.

"I hope that's not interpreted as bragging, but we are proud of our conference and I don't think we need to apologize for that," Clark said.

Oklahoma's Megan Ferguson was second on the balance beam with her 9.9250. Arizona's Katie Matusik (9.8875) was third.

Stack-Eaton and UCLA's Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs tied for second on the floor at 9.9375. Stanford's Sami Shapiro scored a 9.90 to finish second on the bars. UCLA's Olivia Courtney (9.8875) was third.

Georgia has won a record 10 NCAA team championships, including five straight from 2005-09, but has missed making the Super Six in three straight years.

"Kat, as she has done in team meetings, she has a tendency to put the team on her back and I think that's what she was trying to do here today," Clark said. "I think she would tell you we would trade both of these individual championships just for the opportunity to be out there last night. So this is bittersweet. ... The disappointment was very high and very hard for all of us to take."

Stack-Eaton and Alabama coach Sarah Patterson were looking forward to celebrating the team and individual championships. Patterson said the team had little opportunity to savor their 2011 team title due to the deadly tornadoes which tore through Tuscaloosa and the state.

The Alabama gymnasts carried the date of the storms — "April 27, 2011" — on their backs during the competition.

"We won the championship last year and 10 days later the most devastating thing I've ever seen happened," Patterson said. "Really it wasn't until the middle of the fall when we received our championship rings. You really have to put things in perspective and put things on hold and take care of people.

"We never really got to enjoy that championship from last year. I think when we go back this year we're going to enjoy it."