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UCLA Regains Its Balance, Wins Title

April 21, 2001|Associated Press

ATHENS, Ga. — UCLA's "Dream Team" won a second consecutive NCAA women's gymnastics championship Friday night, defying the raucous Georgia fans and a late fall on the balance beam.

Coach Valorie Kondos Field said it wasn't as easy as most expected.

"All year we heard people saying, 'It's a cakewalk for UCLA to win the championship,' " she said. "But it's extremely difficult to repeat."

That was apparent in the "Super Six" final, matching the top-scoring teams from Thursday's preliminary sessions.

UCLA had a poor draw in the rotation, finishing on the treacherous beam with only a 0.100-point lead over Georgia.

Georgia ended with the vault--one of its strongest events--and the crowd of 8,245 was roaring when Kristi Lichey did her best Kerri Strug impression, sticking the landing on a sprained right ankle for a near-perfect 9.950.

Malia Jones, going second for UCLA on the beam, slipped off after a back flip and was penalized with a mark of 9.425. Since only one score is thrown out, the Bruins couldn't afford another mistake.

Not to worry.

Canadian Yvonne Tousek, one of three Olympians on the Bruin team, followed with a virtually flawless routine for a 9.950; Onnie Willis took a slight hop on her landing and still got 9.900; and Kristen Maloney, a member of the U.S. Olympic team, flipped and spun to a 9.925. UCLA's 11-time All-American, Mohini Bhardwaj, went last, and clinched the title.

When Bhardwaj nailed a watered-down dismount, Georgia Coach Suzanne Yoculan began making her way over to the UCLA contingent to offer congratulations.

"It was like fourth and long on four straight plays," Yoculan said, "and they completed the pass every time."

UCLA finished with 197.575 points, the second-highest score in school history and enough to edge Georgia's total of 197.400. Michigan was third at 197.275.

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