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Originally published April 7, 2012 at 7:56 PM | Page modified April 7, 2012 at 10:48 PM

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Huskies fall just shy of nationals

The Washington gymnastics team, making a surprisingly serious challenge for its first trip to NCAA nationals since 1998, fell agonizingly short of a necessary top-two finish Saturday night at a six-team regional meet at Edmundson Pavilion.

Special to The Seattle Times

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So near.

The Washington gymnastics team, hoping to overcome long odds and qualify for NCAA nationals for the first time since 1998, valiantly played the role of upstart challenger but fell short of a necessary top-two finish Saturday night at a six-team NCAA regional at Edmundson Pavilion.

Fourth-ranked Alabama, the defending national champion, and ninth-ranked Louisiana State claimed first and second place as Washington, trailing LSU by a wafer-thin fraction as the final rotation began, could not catch the Tigers and placed third.

Alabama, a five-time national champion, won its 27th consecutive regional meet with a score of 197.025. LSU was second with 196.075, with Washington (195.825) close behind, followed by Arizona (195.15), Iowa (194.6) and Central Michigan (194.15). Alabama and LSU advance to the 12-team national meet April 20-22 in Duluth, Ga.

"We've been saying that for two weeks (since the Pac-12 meet): On that day (of the regional meet), anything can happen," said UW coach Joanne Bowers.

"What was kind of cool was, it came down to the last performance," she said. "We lost by .25 to one of the top teams in the country. It hurts, but I'm proud of them."

Alabama's Geralen Stack-Eaton (39.4) and Ashley Priess (39.35) placed one-two in the all-around. UW sophomore Aliza Vaccher, winner of the vault competition with a personal-best 9.925, was fourth in all-around (39.225) and qualified for the national meet individually for the second straight year.

The 23rd-ranked Huskies were the No. 4 team in its six-team regional.

Arizona, ranked 16th, struggled early on bars while UW came out flying on vault, posting a season-best 49.2. The Huskies spent the night chasing LSU.

Washington entered the final rotation trailing LSU by 0.025 of a point (146.975 to 146.950). Bowers told her gymnasts to not listen as scores were being announced.

"We were doing the la-la-la thing," said UW senior Ruby Engreitz, an Inglemoor High grad who tied for fourth on bars with freshman teammate McKenzie Fechter (9.85).

UW would be on floor, LSU on beam.

"In many instances, the scoring (on floor) will go up as the meet goes on," said Bowers, a former judge. "Those judges did the right thing and stayed consistent. Didn't help us; but they did the right thing and stayed consistent."

LSU had five gymnasts score 9.8 or better on beam for a 49.1 team score. Washington recorded a 48.875 on floor. UW finished third on floor and beam, second on vault and bars.

Fechter placed sixth in all-around (39.175) and is an alternate for competing at the national meet individually. Junior Lauren Rogers was fifth on vault (9.85), sixth on floor (9.825) and 15th in all-around.

Junior Paige Bixler, UW's last competitor on beam, took fifth (9.825).

"They did a fantastic job," Bowers said. "We're all disappointed. To get that close and not get it hurts, but we did everything we tried to do. Potential-wise, I think we're showing we're on the verge of something really big here. I'm very, very proud of our team."

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