DULUTH, Ga. — The Pac-12 set the pace. The Southeastern Conference answered the challenge.
Defending champion Alabama, top-seeded Florida and Arkansas gave the SEC the top three spots in Friday night’s second semifinal after UCLA led the Pac-12’s sweep through the first qualifying meet.
Alabama’s 197.675 edged Florida’s 197.650 for the top two score in either session. Arkansas was third at 197.150.
UCLA led a three-team sweep for the Pac-12 in the first semifinal of the NCAA women’s gymnastics championship Friday.
The No. 2 seed Bruins had the top score, 197.40, in Friday’s first semifinal and will be joined by Utah (197.200) and Stanford (197.125) in today’s Super Six final.
Utah, a longtime gymnastics power, is in its first year in the Pac-12.
Georgia and Alabama have combined for 15 NCAA championships in the 30-year history of the event, and Florida has five top-five finishes in the last six years.
Utah co-coach Megan Marsden said she enjoys being part of a conference that can compete with the powerful SEC teams.
“Not only are we going, but we’re going with a group of people,” Marsden said.
“I remember one year we qualified, and we were going against five SEC teams (in the final) and they were in the hallway and did their chant. We didn’t even have a chant. We were Mountain West.”
Marsden said Utah gymnasts “have already talked about being in the hallway and having their chant” with other Pac-12 teams before Saturday’s Super Six.
UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field said the SEC’s traditional show of strength in the NCAA tournament can make other teams feel like outsiders.
“Walking out on the floor, that’s when it really hits you, and when you’re surrounded by so many SEC schools, you feel like a foreigner,” Kondos Field said. “With our conference getting stronger with Utah here, there is a comfort to that.”
Utah has won nine NCAA championships, second only to Georgia’s 10, but none since 1995. UCLA (six) and Alabama (five) are the only other teams to win titles.
“I think we genuinely get very excited about having other Pac-12 teams move on,” said Stanford coach Kristen Smyth.
“To see Utah come in and just strengthen what we already had has been really exciting.”
Vanessa Zamarripa and Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs posted 9.90 scores as UCLA finished with a 49.350 on the floor exercise to pass Utah for first place on the final rotation.
“We had two uncharacteristic falls on the floor, and Elyse had to follow both of those,” Kondos Field said.
The top three teams in each six-team semifinal advance to the final. Oklahoma, the No. 3 seed, finished fourth with 196.925, followed by Nebraska (196.625) and Louisiana State (196.550).
LSU’s Rheagan Courville had the top all-around score (39.475), followed by Utah’s Stephanie McAllister (39.450).