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SALT LAKE CITY - One night after junior Ashley Postell led Utah to its second-straight NCAA team runner-up finish, she capped an incredible postseason run by winning the national balance beam championship. It was the first individual NCAA title for Postell, who has placed second in the all-around for the past two years after taking the bronze as a freshman in 2005.
Postell, one of six Utes who competed for NCAA individual event championships, scored a 9.9375 from the No. 13 position. She needed to wait through two more routines before securing the title. Ironically, Postell was leading the floor competition right up to the moment she mounted the balance beam. She saw Alabama's Morgan Dennis - competing in the second flight of floor competitors - eclipse her score, before embarking on a beam routine that drew a perfect 10.0 from one judge, 9.95s from three and a 9.90 from two.
A few minutes earlier on the floor exercise, Postell had worked the crowd of 8,334 into a frenzy as she prepared for her final pass - which culminated in a beautifully executed triple twist. Postell hit every element of a difficulty-packed routine that also featured a double Arabian on the first pass, followed by a handspring front layout with a full twist punch front. Four judges saw her routine as a 9.95, but a pair of 9.85s resulted in a 9.925, which eventually resulted in a third-place finish when Georgia's Courtney Kupets - the 18th and final competitor of the night - scored a 9.95. Postell began her night on the uneven bars, where she scored a 9.825 to finish seventh.
Postell's beam title punctuated a great overall night by the Utah individual competitors. Freshman Annie DiLuzio captured second place on the vault by scoring a 9.8875 on both vaults (the NCAA finals, gymnasts perform two vaults and the two scores are averaged). The freshman was the 15th and final competitor on the apparatus and impressed the six-member judging panel throwing a rare double full on her second vault, after an performing a full on her first routine. Only Georgia's Kupets (9.9188) bested DiLuzio.
Sophomore Kristina Baskett also fared well. Although she didn't defend her NCAA bar title, Baskett's 9.90 was good for fourth place. Close behind Postell in eighth place was freshman Daria Bijak, who scored a 9.80 in the most error-free competition of the night. On the floor, Beth Rizzo - one of the few walk-ons accepted into Utah's gymnastics program in the last 20 years and only its second walk-on All-American - scored a 9.8375 to place 12th (of 18 competitors).
Only Nicolle Ford struggled, and it was on an event she dreads. A two-time vault All-American, Ford is terrified of the event and it took a pep talk from teammate Postell for her to even attempt two vaults. After balking during warm-ups, Ford chose not to practice a vault. Nonetheless, Utah's sole senior scored a 9.8775 on her first vault, before landing on her seat on her second try. The partisan crowd lessened the sting by giving a big ovation to one of their all-time favorite gymnasts.