Huskies Stumble But Rally At Pac-12 Championships
March 24, 2012
SALT LAKE CITY - The day was not unfolding as scripted in the minds of the Washington women's gymnastics team at the Pac-12 Championships, but with pride on the line, the Huskies stepped up on the floor exercise and finished out with one of their best events of the season. A 49.125 on the floor was the best of the first session, which featured UW, Arizona, Arizona State, and California at Utah's Huntsman Center.
The 22nd-ranked Huskies wound up third in the first session with a total of 194.125, well off their recent hot pace that had seen the GymDawgs post their two best scores - 196.350 and 196.250 - in their last two outings. Struggles on balance beam was the main culprit, as UW finished behind Arizona and Arizona State and ahead of California in session one. UCLA won the championships with a 197+ in session two.
After a solid start on vault, the Huskies had put four great routines together to start bars before miscues on the last two routines sent them on to beam where things went south with several falls made all the more surprising by the fact that UW had a season-best 49.100 on beam last week. UW righted itself in the final rotation, but Head Coach Joanne Bowers upset with the lapse.
"The last couple on bars were a struggle, which is very uncharacteristic from two of our seniors, but truthfully at that point I felt we still were fine," said Bowers, "but I felt like something snapped a little bit and we just started going down the wrong path, and we went to beam and did not have a great mindset and that is unacceptable. We have done very well the last three weekends and in practice. We have got to be able to be mentally tougher so when things start to go a little bit wrong we can turn it back around. It was just a very disappointing day for us."
Heading into the final event on floor with something to prove, the Huskies showed their fighting spirit by hitting the final five routines to notch a 49.125, their best event of the day, and the best by any team during the first session. It is also their second-best floor score of the season, just behind the 49.175 posted a week ago at Cal.
Freshman Madison Podlucky got the Dawgs going with a 9.750 on her floor run, and the scores kept going up from there. Junior Paige Bixler hit for a 9.800, and then junior Lauren Rogers turned in a 9.825. Finally, Fechter bounced back in a big way from a rare slip on beam with a season-high 9.875, and then senior Ruby Engreitz matched that score in her final Pac-12 moment. Engreitz and Fechter went into the evening session in a three-way tie for the lead on floor.
"I challenged them when we went to floor that their character right now is going to show what they're made of," said Bowers, "because we knew everyone was very disappointed. Floor is an event where you really have to have showmanship, and I said I want you guys to fake it like crazy right now and show that you are not giving up, and I thought they did that. It was too little, too late, but it was good to end on a positive note.
Washington went in Olympic order, opening on vault. Ruby Engreitz led the Dawgs off with a 9.750 and UW continued with a very consistent set, with all their counting marks ranging from 9.750 to 9.800, which was turned in by McKenzie Fechter who was just 0.025 off her season best. Lauren Rogers and Aliza Vaccher both posted a 9.775 and Amanda Cline scored another 9.750. The Huskies collectively notched a 48.850 on vault, placing them second after the first rotation.
Moving to bars, the Huskies started with three consecutive 9.800 marks as the team built momentum. Vaccher, Cline, and Rogers all matched each other's scores with three strong routines, and then Fecther took it up another notch, hitting for a 9.850. But Washington missed a couple chances on its last two routines, with Hatsune Akaogi and Engreitz having uncharacteristic slip-ups to take the Huskies out of the 49-point range and down to a still solid 48.775 which kept them in second through two rotations.
Washington hit balance beam next and it was a rough go as UW had a series of falls to wind up with its lowest beam score of the season at 47.375. The big bright spot was Vaccher, who was exceptional as UW's No. 2 in the rotation. She picked up a couple 9.90s from two of the judges en route to a cumulative score of 9.875, a season-high, and what Coach Bowers called "one of her best routines ever."
"This obviously is not what we had expected or hoped for today," Bowers summarized. "It's nice when little individual things happen, but we're all about the team, and when the team suffers we all suffer. So it wasn't a good day for us, but we're going to get better."
The Huskies now will head home and have two weeks to prepare for NCAA Regionals, which Washington is hosting on April 7. Six teams, including the Dawgs, will be at Alaska Airlines Arena looking to grab the top two spots in order to qualify for the NCAA Championships