Kupets' perfect 10 leads Georgia into gymnastics finals

LINCOLN, Neb. - Courtney Kupets posted her fifth perfect score of the season, matched the highest all-around score of all time and led four-time defending champion Georgia to the team finals at the NCAA women's gymnastics championships on Thursday.

Kupets saved her best for last, recording a 10 on the balance beam after teammate Hilary Mauro led off the event with a fall.

Kupets' four-event total of 39.800 was the highest since 2003. If the score stands through the evening session, Kupets will have won her third NCAA all-around title after missing last year's meet with an injury to her right Achilles.

Georgia led an all-Southeastern Conference run to today's Super Six. The Gym Dogs had a total score of 197.450 and were followed by Florida (196.375) and LSU (196.300).

Stanford (196.225), Penn State (196.1) and Oklahoma (195.825) failed to advance.

Utah, Alabama, Oregon State, UCLA, Arkansas and Illinois were set to compete in the evening session at the Devaney Sports Center.

Georgia, upset in the SEC meet by Alabama in large part because of Cassidy McComb's fall on the beam, got stronger and stronger after Mauro fell off. McComb followed Mauro with a 9.775, Tiffany Tolnay had a 9.875 and Grace Taylor a 9.95 before Kupets scored her second 10 of the season on the beam. The Gym Dogs' 49.550 in the event equaled their highest score of the season.

'When somebody falls, it's tough. At SEC's, we couldn't recover from it,' retiring Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan said. 'Sometimes you have to go through those experiences to get stronger and tougher. We do have a beam team that's capable of hitting under pressure, and you saw that today. Hopefully we won't have to do beam tomorrow under so much pressure.'

Kupets, the SEC Gymnast of the Year and a 2004 Olympian, opened her day with a 9.95 in the floor exercise, then went 9.90 on the vault and 9.95 on the bars.

Kupets said her all-around score was of secondary importance when she jumped onto the beam.

'I knew I had been going at a good pace at this meet,' she said. 'If any thoughts like that come in my head, I have to shoot them out. I need to do this routine for the team.'

Tolnay played a great supporting role for Kupets, turning in a big effort in the vault. She came in ranked 20th in the event but popped a season-high 9.925.

Florida, which has lost four gymnasts to season-ending injuries, made it to the Super Six for the fifth time in six years.

Maranda Smith led the Gators with a four-event score of 39.450. The Gators got off to a rough start in the floor and vault, but they closed strong, with Smith putting up a 9.85 in the bars and Elizabeth Mahlick a 9.875 on the balance beam.

'I'm almost speechless,' Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said. 'With the season we had and the obstacles we've endured, it's just testament once again to the heart the athletes and everyone involved with our program put forth. It was unbelievable how we came back to fight and rally and finish out super strong.'

The Gators had a bye for the sixth and final rotation, meaning they had to withstand anxious minutes as other teams finished.

'It's tough waiting that last rotation to see what would happen, but it's great to be able to say we have another shot tomorrow to better our performance from today,' Faehn said.

LSU got off to a dreadful start on the balance beam and was in last place at the session's midway point. The Tigers' star, Ashleigh Clare-Kearney, fell off, and they posted only one score over 9.775 in the event.

But the Tigers more than made up for their poor start on the vault. They came in ranked No. 5 in the event, but they got two 9.95s from Clare-Kearney and Susan Jackson while scoring a session-leading 49.45.

LSU coach D-D Breaux said her gymnasts adhered to what she called her 'law of holes.'

'When you find yourself in one, quit digging,' she said. 'That's what we basically had to do because we were in such a deep dark hole after the balance beam that it was a battle the entire time.'