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MINNEAPOLIS - The Utah gymnastics team qualified for a national record 27th-consecutive NCAA Championships by winning the North Central Regional. The Utes scored a 196.950 to easily advance along with Arkansas (196.125) to the NCAA Championships in Athens, Ga., April 24-26. Rounding out the North Central regional were host Minnesota (195.275), Arizona (194.275), Southern Utah (194.050) and Iowa (193.875).
Ashley Postell won three events and the all-around, becoming Utah's all-time career and single-season win leader in the process. Like the team, Postell improved as the meet progressed. Her winning bar score was a 9.85, compared to a 9.90 on beam and 9.95 on floor. She scored a 39.60 in the all-around bringing her career total to a school-record 29 all-around wins. She also set new school marks for total single-season (43) and career (116) victories, eclipsing records set by former Ute great Theresa Kulikowski from 1999-2003.
Postell led a trio of Utah all-arounders. Kristina Baskett placed second with a 39.40 and Daria Bijak was third with a 39.35. Baskett made it a clean sweep for the Utes in the individual events by winning vault with a 9.925.
"We had a good meet, not a great meet," said Utah head coach Greg Marsden. "We got off to a slow start on the bars, but we finished strong. I thought our vault was as good as we can do it."
Utah started the night on a bye and perhaps the delayed start played a role in the off night on bars that followed. "We did a lot of `covers'," said Kristina Baskett of a set that never seemed to click. Added Marsden, "Gael Mackie was the only one who had a great bar routine. She actually had the best bar routine of the night in my opinion." Mackie tied for second with Baskett and Bijak - all with 9.825's - behind winner Postell (9.85).
Whatever the reason, the Utes managed only a 48.95 on their opening event - their second-lowest score of the season on the bars. Compared with the opposition's first-event scores, Utah still held an edge - barely. While Utah was sitting in the bye room, Minnesota had scored a 48.875 on floor and Arkansas a 48.850 on bars.
The Utes settled down on the balance beam, scoring a 49.075, and kept padding their lead after each successive event. Jamie Deetscreek, nervous as Utah's first competitor on bars, was rock steady as the leadoff on the beam, scoring a 9.80. In her first go of the night, Annie DiLuzio pitched in a 9.775, followed by a nice looking set by Baskett that received a 9.80. Nina Kim was a little rusty in her surprise return from a sprained ankle, but still chipped in a 9.75. Bijak received a 9.80 and Postell finished with a 9.90.
Back Utah went to the bye room - its second and final break of the night. While the Utes were out, Arkansas (146.825) took advantage a big floor set to put some distance between itself and Minnesota (146.300). Southern Utah's (145.85) slim hopes were extinguished with one event remaining.
All-American Beth Rizzo showed the `bye effect' in leading off Utah's floor set, scoring a sub-par 9.725. Then Bijak got the swagger back in the Utes, riding her giant tumbling and leaps to a 9.85 score. Kyndal Robarts followed suit with a 9.85 of her own. Annie DiLuzio replaced her double Arabian with a triple twist better suited to the hard floor at UM, and it proved a good decision. She received a 9.875 - her third straight 9.875 on floor. Baskett watered her routine down to protect her sore ankles from the unforgiving floor and posted a 9.85. Postell, like DiLuzio, substituted a triple twist for her double Arabian, and pulled off her altered routine beautifully. Her 9.95 average did not include a 10.0 from one judge that was tossed along with the low score (a 9.90). She received a 9.95 from the other two judges.
Utah did not need a big night on vault to clinch the regional title, but got one anyway. Postell's 9.925 beat out a 9.90 by Postell. Bijak, competing from the No. 2 spot, nailed a spectacular vault, only to receive a 9.875. Fortunately, the Utes had plenty to win with their 49.40 set - the best event score by any team all night.