April 25, 2003
Lincoln, NE - The top-ranked UCLA gymnastics team won its fourth NCAA Championship Friday night at the University of Nebraska's Bob Devaney Center. UCLA totaled a 197.825 to finish .55 ahead of second-place Alabama, which scored 197.275. Georgia was third with a 197.15, followed by Nebraska with a 197.125, Michigan with a 196.05 and Utah with a 195.3.
The title is UCLA's fourth overall and third in the last four years. The Bruins' previous wins came in 1997, 2000 and 2001. It is UCLA's 88th overall NCAA title, a national-best.
UCLA kicked things off on vault with five straight dynamic vaults to close the rotation. Jeanette Antolin hit a clean 9.825 and was followed by Kristin Parker, who stuck her handspring front pike half for a 9.85. Kate Richardson scored a 9.9 with a Yurchenko layout full with good height and distance. Onnie Willis landed her Yurchenko layout full with such power that she bounced up but never left her toes and added a 9.875. Jamie Dantzscher ended the set with another Yurchenko full with good height and distance and scored a 9.9 to give the Bruins a team score of 49.35, good for first place after one rotation. Georgia was close behind in second with a 49.275 on floor. Michigan added a 49.075 on beam, and Utah struggled on bars and scored a 48.675.
Host school Nebraska and defending champion Alabama started their first events while UCLA went to a bye in rotation two. Alabama took a slight lead over the Bruins with a 49.375 on floor, thanks in part to Ashley Miles' 9.95. The Huskers, though, had to count a fall on the uneven bars and totaled a 48.8. Utah also had to count a fall on beam and scored just 48.35 on beam. Georgia moved to vault and scored 49.225 to take a two-event lead over Utah, 98.5-97.025.
In rotation three, UCLA moved to the uneven bars. Senior Doni Thompson led off with a 9.825, followed by Willis with a 9.85. Antolin (9.925), Yvonne Tousek (9.9) and Dantzscher (9.95) closed the set with three 9.9+ scores to give the Bruins a 49.45 and a three-event lead with 98.8 points. Alabama, which scored 49.225 on vault, was close behind with 98.6 points, and Georgia was a just behind the Crimson Tide with 98.5 points, followed by Michigan with 98.3 points and Nebraska with 98.2.
UCLA moved to the balance beam for rotation four with a .2 lead over Alabama. In the leadoff position, Willis was not only steady but spectacular, scoring a 9.925. Dantzscher was nearly flawless as well, scoring a 9.9. Malia Jones and Antolin hit for scores of 9.825 and 9.85, respectively. Richardson nailed her routine and earned a 9.95, and Tousek closed with a strong 9.9, giving UCLA a 49.525, the highest score of the night on beam, and a three-event score of 148.325, .475 ahead of second-place Georgia's 147.85.
"It wasn't surprising to me because our falls and mistakes weren't because we were holding back," said UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field. "On the beam, if you doubt yourself, you are off, but they had such integrity and confidence."
Alabama emerged from rotation five as the Bruins' closest competitor, scoring 49.425 on bars for a three-event total of 148.025, just three-tenths behind UCLA. Georgia ended the meet with a 49.3 on beam and a final total of 197.15, meaning the Bruins needed just 48.85 on floor to overtake the Gym Dogs.
Antolin started the floor set with a stunning routine that scored a 9.85. Parker hit for a 9.875, and Jones hit one of her best routines of the year for a 9.9. A Richardson fall on her final pass put some pressure on the final two competitors, but Willis and Dantzscher responded like champions. Willis danced and tumbled to a 9.9, and Dantzscher clinched the victory by scoring a near-perfect 9.975. The Bruins' final floor score of 49.5 easily beat Alabama's 49.25 on beam.
"I had a nice long talk with myself this morning, and I just had such confidence in these people, not just as athletes, but also in their integrity as people," said Kondos Field. "All I asked was that we did the best job we could, and that's what we did. We had some falls out there, but the team never lost its focus."
Seniors Jones, Parker, Carly Raab, Thompson and Willis - the "Fab Five" - end their careers with three NCAA team Championships.
Team Finals: 1. UCLA, 197.825; 2. Alabama, 197.275; 3. Georgia, 197.150; 4. Nebraska, 197.125; 5. Michigan, 196.050; 6. Utah, 195.300.