Arizona moves on to NCAAs

By Arlie Rahn
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 15, 1996

After the first two performances, it didn't look good.

The eighth-ranked UA gymnastics team found itself in the last place they wanted to be in the Midwest Regionals on Saturday night - in a hole. It's first two competitors had fallen off the beam in a meet where one mistake might end the season.

"When something like that happens, you can't dwell on it," UA coach Jim Gault said. "I think at that point all you can do is cross your fingers and hope the next girl stays on."

And to their credit, the Wildcats did exactly that as they turned what could have been disaster to a high point of their season, scoring a 195.75 and finishing second to host, Utah. That score was good enough to give Arizona the fifth at-large bid and a trip to the University of Alabama on April 25-27 for a chance at the NCAA Championship.

"The best part about this meet was the obstacles that we overcame to take second," UA assistant coach Bill Ryden said. "When our score was announced, we received a standing ovation from the Utah crowd in support of our comeback."

Freshman Heidi Hornbeek continued her dominance of the all-around event as she set a UA record with a 39.7, good enough for first in the meet. Her event scores included a perfect 10 in the vault, a 9.925 in the bars, a 9.825 in the beam and a 9.95 in the floor.

"All you can say about Heidi is that she is a determined competitor. That pretty much sums it up," Gault said. "She manages to turn it on when it's time to compete."

For the meet, Arizona had scores of 49.05 (vault), 49.425 (bars), 48.125 (beam) and 49.15 (floor), with their score on the bars good enough for a new school record.

The key for Arizona wasn't just the performances by their big guns, it was performers like senior Shane Allbritton and sophomore Nancy Milberger that helped the Wildcats reach the nationals. In the bars, Allbritton set a career record of 9.85 to help solidify Arizona's score. Milberger gave a key performance on the beam by scoring a game-high 9.875 to salvage the event for the Wildcats.

"A strength for us is definitely having a performer like Heidi. But because no one has a whole team of Heidis, it's a matter of having the individuals in each event to help you win," Gault said. "The meet is won or lost by what your fourth or fifth performers do. If they can't give you a 9.7 or 9.8, you're not going to succeed."

The return to nationals marks the first time since 1993 the Wildcats have reached that pinnacle. That year, the Wildcats finished sixth, so a main concern for Gault is making sure his team is not just satisfied to be there.

"Sometimes when you make the nationals, you have a feeling of 'Wow, we made it' and you don't feel any pressure to do well," Gault said. "We can't let the feeling that we made it make the nationals anticlimactic, but the way these girls have competed all year, I am hoping they will continue to play at the level they have established."