National Champs: Gym Dawgs take it home

AUBURN - The Georgia Bulldogs had a near flawless performance Friday night to capture their sixth NCAA Gymnastics title with a score of 197.825 at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum. The Bulldogs maintained a strong lead despite a late push by second place Alabama, who ended with a 197.400 on the night.

"We went from worst to first," Georgia head coach Suzanne Yoculan said. "I don't know if any team has ever gone from the 12th seed to winning it all. After the fourth loss of the season, things really started to turn around for us. We were forced to improve on some things, and the girls responded well. We knew the stars had to align for Georgia to win tonight, and they were definitely aligned for us tonight. This championship isn't just for this group of girls here tonight. This one is for every girl that has been on our teams since the championship team in 1999."

Georgia's consistency was evident as the lowest score of the night was a 9.800, recorded on the beam. Freshman Katie Heenan led the Bulldogs with an all-around score of 39.725. The Bulldogs have now placed in the top three 17 of the last 19 NCAA Super Six finals. Georgiahas also won the NCAA title for only the second time after not finishing first in Regional round. This season, the Bulldogs finished second to Florida with a 195.150, which was the team's lowest Regional score since 1991 (194.275).

"Tonight was all about our team effort," said Georgia's Ashley Kupets. "We had to go out and compete with all our hearts. It was because we acted as a team that we were able to win this competition."

Rounding out the scoring was Utah in third with a score of 197.275, two-time defending National Champion UCLA in fourth (197.150), Michigan in fifth (196.575) and Nebraska in sixth at 196.425. UCLA and Georgia shared the lead throughout most of the meet until Georgia pulled away from the Bruins on the final rotation.

Alabama's late push came in large part to junior Ashley Miles, who scored two consecutive 10.0s on the floor and vault, helping lead the Crimson Tide to a 49.600 on the floor and a 49.625 on the vault, both of which were top scores of all teams. The two perfect scores for Miles is the first time the junior has collected two 10.0s in one meet.

"It was amazing to be able to go out there and get those two 10.0s," Miles said. "It is pretty big to be able to go out in a dual meet and score a 10.0, but in the Super Six it is even harder because there are four judges instead of two. So you know if you get a 10.0, you have pretty much hit on all possible aspects of your performance."

The second place finish for the Crimson Tide is the first NCAA Championship event in the state of Alabama that the in-state team has not won.

Utah finished with a 197.275 and was the only team other than Georgia to score a 49.000 or higher on each event. Nicolle Ford led the team on the all-around with a score of 39.550.

In the team competition, UCLA has not finished out of the top three since 1999, when the Bruins finished fifth to NCAA Champion Georgia. Senior Kristen Maloney's 10.0 on the floor is just the second of her career in that event.

Saturday's competition will crown the champion on individual events. Start time is set for 7 p.m. CT from the campus of Auburn University.

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