|Denise Jones scored above a 39.00 in the all-around both nights of the NCAA Championships.|
|Angie Leonard made first-team All-American on bars for the second straight year.|
|Molly Northrop was a first-team bar All-American.|
|Traci Sommer had a sensational NCAA Championship and made first-team All-American on beam for a third time.|
April 17, 1998
LOS ANGELES - The University of Utah gymnastics team returned to the awards stand at the 1998 NCAA Championships, placing fourth. It was a big step for the 10-time national champion Utes, who dropped to seventh in 1997 and failed to qualify for the Super Six for the first time since the format was implemented in 1993. Utah, seeded No. 6 going into the championships, advanced to the Super Six by placing third in its qualifying session on April 16. The Utes shot all the way to No. 4 in the team finals on April 17. Utah scored a 196.025 to finish behind Georgia (197.725), Florida (196.350) and Alabama (196.300). The Utes placed ahead of 1997 NCAA champion UCLA (195.750) and 1997 NCAA runner-up Arizona State (195.450).
Utah did not count a fall over the course of the two-day team competition in UCLA's Pauley Pavilion in capturing its eighth top-four NCAA finish in the 1990s and its 18th top four finish all- time at the national championships. Utah made the cut for the Super Six by scoring a 196.200 on April 16, behind UCLA (196.925) and Florida (196.750). Failing to advance from Utah's session were Washington (195.450), Louisiana State (195.300) and Penn State (194.625).
Freshman Shannon Bowles led Utah into Friday's finals by tying for eighth in the all-around with a 39.350 and making the All-America first team. Bowles, who tied for second overall on beam (9.90) and eighth overall on bars (9.90) Thursday, was a first-team All-American on those events as well. She was one of three Utes to top 39.00 in the all-around on Thursday. Denise Jones (39.25) made second-team All-American with her 12th place all-around finish. Angie Leonard was 18th with a 39.075. Leonard, who tied for the highest bar score of the night with a 9.95, made the All-America first team on that event, as did Bowles and Molly Northrop (tied for eighth, 9.90).Senior Traci Sommer made first-team All-American on beam with a 9.85, although it was not quite good enough to get her into individual finals on that event for a third year.
It took a magnificent effort on bars for the Utes to advance to the round of six. After opening the first day of competition with a solid 48.975 on beam--the second highest beam score of the day-- the Utes moved into third with a 49.025 on floor. But they ran into trouble on vault, dropping off to a 48.750 and opening the door for Washington and LSU. Utah's 48.750 vault score gave it a three-event total of 146.750, just ahead of LSU (146.55) and Washington (146.50).With their backs to the wall, the Utes rang up a 49.450 bar score--the second-best of the day--to easily secure third. Sarah Northrop started things off right with a 9.85--matched by the next two Utes, Marilyn Ekdahl and Denise Jones. Utah closed the set even stronger, with Molly Northrop and Bowles each receiving a 9.90 and Leonard sticking a 9.95.
The Utes drew the "Olympic" rotation for Friday, opening on vault and closing with floor exercise and a bye. Vault again proved a problem and Utah found itself in fifth place after faltering to a 48.475. But they got rolling on bars, scoring a 49.375, led by closers Bowles (9.90) and Leonard (9.90). On beam, Bowles and Sommer each scored a 9.90, which tied for the highest score of the night, and Utah churned out a 49.075--the second best score on the beam for a second straight day. Utah posted the big score despite an altered lineup. Freshman Theresa Wolf replaced Leonard, whose shin injury flared up in Thursday's competiton and relegated her to three events. Wolf calmly responded with a 9.725. Still in fifth after three events, the Utes finished strong on floor with a 49.10. Sommer, Utah's only senior and its last competitor, led the way with a 9.85. The Utes spent the final rotation on a bye and moved up to fourth while sitting in the locker room.
Utah finished its 1998 NCAA competition on Saturday night with three individuals competing for titles. All three were first-team All-Americans, as was Sommer on beam. Bowles, Utah's only two-event qualifier, tied for fourth on both bars (9.85) and beam (9.85). Molly Northrop was sixth on bars with a 9.825. Leonard, also a 1997 first-team bar All-American, didn't fare as well, falling on her dismount and finishing 12th (9.275).
Utah loses only Sommer from this year's squad and will return Jenny Schmidt, who missed this season with a knee injury. The Utes signed two big time recruits in two-time U.S. National Team member Theresa Kulikowski of Colorado Springs, Colo., and 1995 U.S. National Team member Deidra Graham of Tooele, Utah.
1. Georgia 197.725 2. Florida 196.350 3. Alabama 196.300 4. Utah 196.025 5. UCLA 195.750 6. Arizona State 195.450 7. Washington 195.450 8. Michigan 195.425 9. Louisiana State 195.300 10. Penn State 194.625 11. North Carolina St. 194.125 12. Brigham Young 193.400