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First title since 1999 for Bulldogs

4/23/2005

AUBURN, Ala. – Georgia stumbled into the NCAA women's
gymnastics championships. The GymDogs regained their footing in
time for another title.

Georgia won its sixth championship Friday night, ending UCLA's
two-year reign and rebounding with a flourish from a nightmarish
regional that had the GymDogs at the bottom of the 12 qualifying
teams.

Clearly, it hadn't diminished their confidence.

"Regionals to me was a fluke," coach Suzanne Yoculan said.
"Lightning does not strike twice. I didn't make a big deal of
it."

She did make a big deal out of the title, triumphantly crowing
"from worst to best."

Georgia captured its first title since 1999 despite having to
replace eight scholarship gymnasts after last season and losing
four consecutive meets for the first time in Yoculan's 22-year
tenure.

Freshman Katie Heenan scored 9.95s on the vault and beam and
finished with a season-high all-around score of 39.725 to lead
Georgia.

It was clear early no school would be breaking through to win an
event dominated by UCLA, Georgia, Alabama and Utah since it began
in 1982. Michigan (196.575) and Nebraska (196.425) rounded out the
six-team finals.

The GymDogs had a bye in the fifth of six rotations when the
Bruins opened the beam competition with a fall and struggled to a
48.925. That allowed Alabama to overtake UCLA for second and took
much of the pressure off Georgia in the final rotation on the bars.

UCLA and Alabama had to hope for Georgia to falter on the bars,
but it didn't happen.

In fact, Georgia apparently got all its troubles out of the way
at regionals, where the team had three falls on the balance beam
and squeaked in with the lowest qualifying score of the 12-team
field. The GymDogs had the top score of Thursday's preliminaries, a
then-season-high 197.35, and followed with an even better
performance.

If they were going to have a misstep it was most likely to come
on the first event, the balance beam. Instead, the GymDogs posted
the highest score of the finals on the event at 49.35.

"If we hit on the beam," Michelle Emmons said, "we knew we'd
be fine."

UCLA's Kristen Maloney and Alabama's Ashley Miles both scored
perfect 10s on the floor, Miles' first of the year. Miles, a
three-time NCAA champion, also finished the meet with a 10 on the
vault.

Maloney was already only the fourth gymnast in NCAA history to
get perfect scores in all four events.

The fifth-year senior also finished second in the all-around
Thursday behind teammate Tasha Schwikert and Friday night's 39.725
by her and Heenan would have tied for the title.

UCLA had three Olympians while Alabama and Michigan each had
one. Yoculan was more interested in counting team titles than
Olympians, though.

"We may not have the best athletes in our lineup like an Ashley
Miles or an Olympian, but we have a total team," she said. "We
really emphasize that we have a total team.

"The team just believed. They believed right from the beginning
that we could win this thing," she added.

Alabama appeared to slip out of contention after a poor beam
performance but climbed back to second after a pep talk from coach
Sarah Patterson in the locker room.

"She just told us the meet's not over until it's over, there's
no fat lady singing," Miles said. "We could easily have given up
and been fifth or sixth position, but we didn't."

And Georgia didn't fade after losing to Florida, LSU, Oklahoma
and Alabama – all among the initial 12-team field – in February.

"It was after that fourth loss things really turned around for
this team," Yoculan said. "The adversity really forced them to
improve. That was the turning point for us."