SEC women triumph at NCAA finals
CLEVELAND -- The Southeastern Conference completed its gold rush Sunday at the NCAA women's gymnastics championships.
Alabama's Geralen Stack-Eaton (floor exercise), Florida's Marissa King (vault) and Georgia's Kat Ding (uneven parallel bars) took home individual event titles, giving the league four total crowns at the event.
One day earlier, the Crimson Tide won the national team championship at Cleveland State's Wolstein Center with junior Stack-Eaton providing their best all-around score.
"Because our in-house competition is so strong, seeing the SEC be successful here is more rewarding than anything else," Ding said. "We have so many powerhouse programs, but we put aside our college differences and support each other once we get to nationals."
UCLA's Samantha Peszek (balance beam) claimed the only non-SEC championship on the third and final day of competition. Michigan senior Kylee Botterman earned the all-around title Friday.
"This was an exciting event, but it's also scary because it shows how exceptionally strong the SEC is from top to bottom," Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said. "And what I like the most is the way each of our teams puts a different artistic stamp on its program."
Stack-Eaton's score of 9.9375 on the floor was the highest of the day on any apparatus. Botterman, Florida's Maranda Smith, and defending champion Brittani McCullough of UCLA tied for second place at 9.9.
"This was a really good weekend and it was really nice to end it up here on the podium," said Stack-Eaton, a native of Horsham, Penn.
King, who competed for Great Britain at the 2008 Summer Olympics, had a winning mark of 9.875 on the vault. Oklahoma's Madison Mooring was second at 9.825 but couldn't match the level of difficulty in the sophomore's routine.
"Having two different vaults with a 10.0 start value really helped me," said King, who hails from Cambridge, England, and is first Gators gymnast to capture an individual trophy since 1998. "I'm very proud and honored to compete for Florida and to win this title."
Ding, a junior from Sparks, Nev., joined Stack-Eaton in notching the largest victory margin of 0.0375. The Athens Regional titlist was the second participant on the bars, where she scored a 9.9125 to beat Oregon State's Jen Kesler (9.875).
"It was nerve-racking sitting there watching everybody else [in the 15-woman field]," Ding said. "I'm just thankful that today was the day my routine decided to show up."
Peszek prevented an SEC Sunday sweep by scoring a 9.9 to earn UCLA's sixth all-time title on the beam. Alabama's Kayla Hoffman and Bruins teammate Aisha Gerber tied for second at 9.8875.
Despite being a freshman, Indianapolis native Peszek already owns a silver medal as part of the United States team at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
"I'm kind of new to the college thing, so I had no clue what this weekend was going to entail," she said, giggling. "It's completely different than anything I've been a part of, but I absolutely loved every minute of it. Beam is my favorite event and being here was awesome."
The individual event finals attracted a crowd of 2,534, bringing the four-session paid attendance total to 12,430 -- down from the 15,026 it drew last year at the University of Florida, but more than the 12,197 at the University of Nebraska in 2009.
This marked the first time the NCAA has held its women's gymnastics final at a neutral site. The 2012 championships will also be off campus at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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