Balance beam propels Georgia to fourth straight title
ATHENS, Ga. -- Suzanne Yoculan has one year left to aim for a perfect 10th NCAA championship.
Yoculan's Georgia team capped its fourth straight NCAA women's gymnastics title with one of its strongest balance beam performances Friday night. The championship was Georgia's ninth in 25 years under Yoculan, who has said she will retire after the 2009 season.
Georgia's 49.375 on the beam matched its third-highest score on the apparatus in an NCAA championship. The Gym Dogs, who led after opening with a 49.475 on the floor exercise, won with a 197.45 total.
"Winning four in a row, it never got old, it really didn't," said Nikki Childs, one of four seniors.
Utah was second for the third straight year, finishing at 197.125. Stanford was third at 196.75, followed by Florida (196.70), LSU (196.35) and Alabama (196.125).
Georgia is the first team to win four straight NCAA championships since Utah won five in a row from 1982-86.
Georgia and Utah each have won nine NCAA championships, but Utah's last title came in 1995.
"They are just a juggernaut right now, and I can relate," said Utah coach Greg Marsden, in his 33rd year. "I can remember once when we were, and everyone was sick of us winning."
Yoculan said she trained her team to win on the beam.
"We have been working the last two weeks every single practice on getting a 49.5 on beam to start out the workout or we had to come back later and do it again," Yoculan said.
"We practiced this scenario. We thought we would be on the beam last in this competition. It's the event that really makes the difference in the championship. It's always the deciding event."
Georgia approached its final event showing no signs of pressure.
Senior Katie Heenan earned 10.0 scores from two judges and settled for a 9.95, and Courtney McCool stuck her landing for a 9.90.
"I honestly think we were all pretty calm," Heenan said. "I know I was."
"They went to the beam with total confidence," Yoculan said. "They looked at me and said 'We've got it, don't worry."
The Gym Dogs had a bye for the sixth and final rotation but their lead was too big to overcome.
"We fought to the end," said Heenan, who also scored a 9.95 on the floor exercise. "I'm glad we left without a doubt in anyone's mind that we should have won. ... It's what we dreamed of and we accomplished it."
Georgia's gymnasts embraced their status as the favorites. They posted the top score, 197.625, in Thursday's semifinals. They entered Friday's warm-up session wearing T-shirts with "Defend what is OURS" printed on them.
Georgia, led by Heenan, launched its successful defense by taking the lead on the first rotation with a 49.475 on the floor.
"We knew when we walked out there we were in our own arena and nobody was going to take it from us," Heenan said. "We got the crowd right in there from the beginning. We had to start it off right."
McCool, the anchor of Georgia's floor lineup, stepped out of bounds on her last pass, but her 9.775 was the team's low score and didn't count.
"Some of our big scorers made mistakes tonight and we had a lot of other people step up," Yoculan said.
"It was an interesting competition. It wasn't about anyone being perfect. ... There seemed to be a lot of teams that were just off tonight."
Georgia maintained its lead with a 49.225 on the vault, but Heenan's fall on the uneven bars gave Utah an opening. It was Heenan's only fall this season.
The Gym Dogs settled for a 49.375 on bars while Utah, led by Ashley Postell's second 9.95 of the night, posted a 49.400 on the vault.
Georgia was ranked No. 1 all but two weeks this season, but had to overcome the loss of junior Courtney Kupets to a ruptured Achilles' tendon in March. Kupets was the NCAA all-around champion the last two years.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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