AUBURN, Ala. For University of Utah sophomore gymnast Rachel Tidd, uneven bars is her thing. It's what she has done so well all season, ranking No. 1 in the nation for much of the time.
And this year, Tidd got to do bars along with everything else throughout the postseason instead of missing the last competition with mono, as she did last year.
For Ute freshman Ashley Postell, uneven bars is somewhat drudgery. Coach Greg Marsden says she's afraid of them. She says she's not afraid but has mental blocks when she's on bars.
But it was the only thing left for Postell on Saturday night as the 2005 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships came to a close with the individual-event finals.
Postell had bruised a heel in premeet warm-ups before Friday's Super Six competition. She was able to do all four events for the team, but on Saturday, for herself, all she was able to perform was bars, after also qualifying for finals in vault and her favorite event, beam.
The two Utes, who are far apart in their affinity for the event, tied for third place in the NCAA finals Saturday night, each scoring 9.8875, along with UCLA's Tasha Schwikert. Finishing ahead of them were Alabama's Terin Humphrey with 9.9375 and Georgia's Kelsey Ericksen with 9.925.
It was Utah's top finish of the evening.
Utah senior Annabeth Eberle, who was second in vaulting last year, was sixth this time around with 9.7688, her lowest score of the season, and tied for eighth place on floor exercise with 9.8375, one place ahead of senior teammate Gritt Hofmann, who scored 9.80 in her final routine as a Ute.
UCLA senior Kristen Maloney won both vault and beam with identical 9.9375 scores but stepped out of bounds on her final routine, floor. North Carolina's Courtney Bumpers, the defending co-champion, seized the floor championship from Alabama co-defending champion Ashley Miles (9.975).
Eberle had to directly follow the two high-powered Southeastern-area favorites. "All you can do is go out and do your best, and what I did tonight was my best considering the third day of competition," said a choked-up Eberle just minutes after her career had officially come to an end. "This is the first time I've made floor finals, so I was really excited.
"I was really tired from the two days, and my legs were pretty tired. I just kind of gave all I had, literally, just to get to my feet."
She'd done OK in vault but underrotated both attempts. "I think she was pressing," said Marsden. Eberle was second on vault in the 2004 championships, and Marsden said she probably wanted to do at least that well again. "I think vault is her deal," he said.
"I thought about last year, but I really can't have any expectations, and I didn't have any going in. I was just excited to be out here for the third year on vault. I was tired because I was giving it all I had Thursday and Friday because I wanted it so bad for the team, and because I did, I happened to make vault finals," Eberle said.
Hofmann was just happy that, even without getting another shot Saturday morning, her torn calf muscle didn't bother her in her last routine. "I am so glad. That would have been the worst," she said about the possibility of the leg hurting while competing as an individual. She'd worked through the pain for the team the two days before.
Of her last routine, she said, "It went really fast because I was first up after warmup. You don't have time to think about it. I don't even know all the parts of my floor routine that I did. You just do it automatic."
"Three nights on that leg, she did such a nice job," said Marsden of Hofmann, noting she's landed a little off on her full-in but otherwise did a nice floor routine.
All the Utes seemed tired on this individual night after focusing on the team Thursday and Friday. Utah finished third in Friday's team championships, better than back-to-back sixth places the past two years.
"I'm not that bad," said Tidd, who's battled a bad back all season, "but I'm glad it was the last one. We get a break now."
After being No. 1 much of the season on bars, she said: "Well, you know, first place would have been better, but I'll take third. Really, I just wanted to have fun, so that's what I did. I tried my hardest, and I think everything went pretty well."
Postell said getting third place in the NCAA on her poorest event will give her something to think about for the coming seasons and improves her confidence.
She pretty much knew she couldn't compete in beam finals with her bruised heel, but she tried to warm up for the vault and couldn't run or land properly, so she had to give that up, too, leaving her on bars."It's pretty bad," Marsden said of Postell's heel. "She was really upset" that she couldn't do the other events. He told her not to warm up her bars dismount, either, just land it one time for score. "She was a stud," he said of that landing.