Georgia gymnasts finish fifth at NCAA championship

Georgia had the throwback leotards and Alabama had the home crowd, but in the end it was a mix of old and new that won the NCAA gymnastics championships at the Birmingham Convention Complex.

Florida, which won its first national title last year, finished in a tie with Oklahoma for the championship Saturday.

The meet came down to the final rotation, where Alabama led 148.7, Oklahoma was second with 148.625 and Florida was third with 148.55.

Georgia, which started with a shaky rotation on the balance beam, was a distant fourth at 147.525, while LSU and Nebraska finished with 197.6 and 196.5, respectively.

Alabama had the disadvantage of ending on the balance beam, while Oklahoma was on the vault and Florida was on the floor.

The Crimson Tide got in a bind early when leadoff gymnast Diandra Milliner fell. The rest of the line came through with solid routines until Kim Jacob fell on her mount. Jacob won the all-around title Friday night, but evidently couldn’t beat the pressure and the balance beam Saturday and scored only 9.35. The Tide finished with a disappointing 48.85.

Meanwhile Oklahoma finished with a 49.55 on the vault, and Florida scored 49.625 on the floor.

Both teams milled around the floor unsure what the result was until the official announcement was made that there was a tie for first, marking the first time it has happened for the title.

While the leaders were duking it out, Georgia was trying to dig itself out of a hole.

The Gym Dogs wore some leotards that were similar to the ones they wore in 2005, when they started a streak of five consecutive national titles, but they couldn’t duplicate the old winning spirit.

Unlike the Tide, who started out on fire, the Gym Dogs looked nervous as they opened their competition on the balance beam.

The high score of the rotation was a 9.875 from Lindsey Cheek, who celebrated by pumping her fists and urging on her team. Unfortunately for Georgia, the scores were all in the 9.8 range to give the team a mark of 49.075. That score just wasn’t good enough to keep pace with the leaders.

“We could have folded right then, but I’m proud of them for the way they kept fighting,” Georgia coach Danna Durante said. “As we saw tonight, the standard here in the Super Six is really high, as it should be, and we just weren’t good enough. We have to keep getting better, but at least we can say Georgia is back in the Super Six every year, that is huge for us.”

To their credit, the Gym Dogs made sure they finished strong. Georgia scored a 49.275 on the vault, led by Cheek’s 9.95 and Lauren Johnson’s 9.9.

Georgia closed the meet with a 49.525 on the uneven bars, led by a 9.95 from Brittany Rogers and a 9.925 from Cheek.

The score was enough to push the Gym Dogs past Nebraska, which faltered in its final events.

“We had a lot of fight,” said Chelsea Davis, who had a 9.9 on the uneven bars. “We can at least now say we expect to make it into the Super Six every year. It’s not a matter of if we make it in, but how high we finish.”

Georgia finished sixth last year, the first time the Gym Dogs made it into the Super Six after a three-year absence.

Like Davis and Durante, Cheek believes there is more to come from the Gym Dogs.

“Once you light that fire, it’s hard to put it out,” she said. “We’re back in it for the long run.”