April 23, 2010

By Paul D. Bowker
Special to NCAA.com

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After strongly landing her routine from the balance beam Thursday, Georgia's Courtney McCool -- with a University of Georgia logo painted on her cheek -- hugged her coach. She glanced up at the stands and waved to acknowledge cheers rolling down from the seating area at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

A 9.9. Tied for first place. Good enough.

Saturday night, McCool, who won a silver medal with the USA artistics gymnastics team at the 2004 Olympics, will compete in the individual portion of the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships as the only Georgia Gym Dog -- an unusual circumstance considering that in every other year of her collegiate career, Georgia was winning a national team championship and she had plenty of company on finals night.

This year, she'll be alone. Georgia, five-time national champs, didn't advance out of the regionals.

While Florida, the Southeastern Conference champ, tries to chase down its first national championship Friday night in an event it is hosting, Saturday's individual championships will take on an atmosphere of its own. New national champions will be crowned in every event. Among the SEC athletes joining McCool on Saturday will be Louisiana State senior Susan Jackson, who placed first in the all-around results at Thursday afternoon's semifinals session while at the same time her team finished sixth out of six teams and was eliminated from the competition.

"It was my last meet as a senior with my team and it's definitely a bittersweet feeling, surreal in a way," said Jackson, who also scored 9.9 on the beam and will compete in the balance beam, vault and uneven parallel bars Saturday.

Among Thursday's other individual highlights: Penn State's Sharaya Musser finished second in the all-around results during the afternoon session, and qualified to compete in the vault with a score of 9.9. Her teammate, Brandi Personett, qualifed for the individual finals in the balance beam and floor exercise. Casey Jo Magee of Arkansas won the all-around competition in the night semifinals and qualified for the individuals in three events.

FINAL SUPER SIX: A change in the championships format next year will eliminate the Super Six, in which the top three teams from each of two semifinal sessions advance to the final round. Beginning next year, only four teams will advance to the finals although not all coaches are in favor of it.

Alabama coach Sarah Patterson says she is not in favor of a format that takes away a national-championship opportunity from two teams. "I am not a proponent of it," she said.

Stanford Coach Kristen Smyth says a four-team final may lead to better TV opportunities.

"What I'm hoping is it allows us to get some live TV opportunities and to make our sport a little more understandable for the general public, eliminating the byes (created by a six-team, six-rotation format)," Smyth said.

This year's championships will be televised by CBS, on a delayed basis, at 3 p.m. EDT May 8.

HIGH OFF THE FLOOR: For the first time since 2008, all of the events at the O'Connell Center are being held a podium stage that rises three feet from the floor. The stages create more of a bouncy effect for the gymnasts, and many of the teams competed atop similar stages at their conference tournaments.

"It helps with confidence, having already done that (competed on a podium at the SEC Championships at Jacksonville, Fla.)," said Arkansas senior Casey Jo Magee. "You're still going to have to make adjustments."

The podium stages were first used at the 2004 Championships in Los Angeles, and were also used in 2005 and 2008.

INJURED TIGER: Missouri gymnast Danielle Guider, who was scheduled to compete in all four events for the Tigers, fell in her vault attempt and injured her ankle. She had to be carried away by two coaches. Missouri head coach Rob Drass said Guider would be evaluated again late Thursday night.