BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The balance beam has to be the most hated apparatus for Utah gymnastics fans.
The Utes struggled earning the evening semifinal’s second-lowest score, while Nebraska’s top score allowed it to edge Utah by .075 of a point to earn the third and final spot in Saturday’s NCAA championships.
“It’s heartbreaking because, as I’ve said all year, this group has worked so hard and come so far,” said Utah co-head coach Greg Marsden after Utah was eliminated from the Super Six with a fourth-place finish after scoring 197.025. “To have it end this way and not really be who we wanted to be tonight is hard. It's a tough pill to swallow.”
Utah was expected to join Alabama (197.600) and Florida (197.600) from the evening session in Saturday’s Super Six. Georgia (197.500), Oklahoma (197.300) and LSU (197.100) advanced from the afternoon session.
“I’m thrilled and I just can’t say enough about the competition that we had here,” said Alabama head coach Sarah Peterson. “There are four national champions in this session and somebody wasn’t going to make it — possibly two. … That’s what our sport has come to.”
Utah had a respectable start on bars, with the exception of one fall, but the Utes struggled on beam, just as they did at last year’s nationals. The difference this season was that they had a bye and then their two best events — floor and vault.
“Obviously balance beam was a disappointment because we’ve handled that much better than we did tonight,” Marsden said. “But I felt like we had a chance with our two strongest events coming up.”
The truth was that there were a lot of places where Utah could have picked up the tenth of a point it needed to edge Nebraska.
“We were just a little off all night,” Marsden said. “Floor was good. There were a lot of positives there, but there were a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes there. And vault, I don’t think there’s been another meet all year that we haven’t stuck more than one vault.”
Senior Mary Beth Lofgren said the gymnasts were optimistic after the beam despite their struggles.
“We felt like we were in a position to do well in the next two events,” she said. “And I think we were excited about that.”
But the Utes had some issues on floor and then earned their worst score of the year (49.300) on vault to allow Nebraska, which scored 49.450 on beam, an opportunity to overtake them.
Utah finished the vault just as Nebraska’s second athlete finished the beam, so the team watched as its dream season, which included a Pac-12 championship, ended in heartbreak.
“They were unconscious,” Marsden said. “I didn’t expect that. I really thought when we went to vault that we had a really good chance to move on. Our vaults were huge; we just didn’t stick them.”
Nebraska head coach Dan Kendig said his team wasn’t intimidated competing against four programs with national titles.
“I’ve had a team that doesn’t really worry about that, and we just came in and tried to do our best,” he said. “If our best was good, then that was great.” Only Utah junior Georgia Dabritz stuck her vault landing, and her 9.925 was good enough to earn her a spot in Sunday’s individual championships. Becky Tutka and Nansy Damianova earned 9.925 on floor and will compete for individual titles as well.
Tears marked the end of what was an impressive season for Utah, but it doesn’t diminish the Utes' many accomplishments or their effort.
“We fought hard all the way through,” said Lofgren, wiping away tears. “But it just wasn’t our night. I’m really proud of this team; we had a great year. It was a lot of fun.”