Georgia aims for 4th straight NCAA title

By The Associated Press

ATHENS, Ga. – Katie Heenan thought winning the 2005 NCAA championship as a freshman might be a career highlight. Instead, it has become an April tradition.

Heenan and three other Georgia seniors will open their bid for their fourth straight team title Thursday night. Utah, which finished second to the Gym Dogs the last two years, had the longest run with five straight NCAA titles from 1982-86.

Georgia, the No. 1 seed, has the home floor advantage as 12 teams will compete Thursday to advance to Friday’s Super Six.

“My senior class couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Heenan said Wednesday. “In 2005, when we won our first one, we thought that was great. We’re going in this year with three behind us, going for our fourth.”

The Georgia gymnasts wore plastic fedoras that had “Hat Trick” written on the band after winning last year’s championship in Salt Lake City. This year’s motto has been “Back 4 More.”

“To do it in front of our hometown crowd would be absolutely amazing,” Heenan said.

Florida is the No. 2 seed, followed by LSU, Stanford, Utah and Alabama.

Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan and many of her peers said Wednesday there is increased parity in a sport that has been exceptionally top-heavy. Only four teams have won championships: Utah (9), Georgia (8), UCLA (5) and Alabama (4).

This is the fourth time Georgia has hosted the championships. It won the 1989 championship at Stegeman Coliseum but lost the last two years the event was held in Athens. UCLA edged Georgia in 2001, the last year the meet was held in Athens.

Yoculan said Wednesday she was outcoached by UCLA’s Valorie Kondos Field in the 2001 meet in Athens, but added that would not happen again this week.

“Game on,” Kondos Field replied.

UCLA is the No. 9 seed.

Georgia has been ranked No. 1 all but two weeks this season, but it had to overcome the loss of junior Courtney Kupets to a ruptured Achilles in March.

Injuries are common in gymnastics, but the loss of Kupets, the NCAA all-around champion the last two years, could have crushed the hopes for a fourth straight title. Georgia lost at Michigan on March 7, its first meet without Kupets.

Georgia hasn’t lost again, hitting a high point with its 197.775 to win the Northeast Regional at Penn State on April 12.

It was Georgia’s 20th regional win in Yoculan’s 25 years as coach.