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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships : Fullerton’s Dream Deflected, Settles for Fifth Place

Times Staff Writer

Sometimes the underdog can dream the impossible and make it come true.

That happily was the case Friday night for University of Alabama gymnast Penney Hauschild, who came from 35th in the seedings of the NCAA gymnastics championships at the University of Florida to tie for the all-around title with Arizona State’s Jackie Brummer.

Hauschild was the all-around winner in 1985, but had less success in 1986, before her surprising revival Friday night.

But other times, the impossible dream is deflected by somebody else’s plans and you end up settling for fifth place--and learning to like it.

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That was the fate of the Cal State Fullerton women’s gymnastics team, which transformed a season that should have been a washout into a trip to the nationals with a realistic shot at the collegiate title.

Instead, as Titan Coach Lynn Rogers put it, his team “got bitten in the leg when we weren’t looking” by a favorite event, the floor exercise, and slipped out of contention midway through the meet.

Utah held off Arizona State to win its sixth straight championship, while Hauschild’s Crimson Tide leaped from a seventh seeding into third place. Utah scored 186.95 to the Sun Devils’ 186.70. Alabama, in making the second largest climb in meet history, scored 186.35.

But the Sun Devils probably deserved a team style award--all but one of their gymnasts sported unconventional razored new-wave haircuts, bringing a futuristic air to the home of pixies and ponytails.

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The Sun Devils avoided being pulled under by the unexpected arrival of Alabama, but the third-seeded Titans became the Tide’s main victim. They wound up dropping behind steady, fourth-seeded Georgia, which scored 185.45 to the Titans’ 185.00.

The trick of fitting two women, the all-around co-champions, together on the top step of the tiered victory stand at the end of the meet was the night’s last test of balance.

The third finisher in the individual all-around was Titan Tami Elliott, the picture of consistency. She tied for third all-around last season.

UCLA freshman Gigi Zosa earned fourth all-around. The Bruins, without the four-event services of freshman star Tanya Service, who got the flu to go with a bad ankle and competed only in bars and floor exercise, finished seventh with 181.70, behind Penn State (182.70).

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Zosa, a resident of Huntington Beach who was born in Canada and competed for the Canadian Olympic team in 1984, will compete in tonight’s individual uneven parallel bars and balance beam events.

Elliott also advances to the bars and beam events, while Titan Taunia Rogers finished third in the floor exercise to qualify for today’s individual event.

But Roni Barrios, a Fullerton senior who might be overlooked on the basis of her performance Friday, is one of the main reasons the Titans carried their unlikely dream to the nationals at all in 1986, according to Lynn Rogers.

“We never would have gotten this far without Roni Barrios,” Rogers said.

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Barrios, a senior, underwent two knee surgeries last summer and had decided her career was over. But an invitation by Rogers to come back and try a couple of events blossomed into an outstanding season as an all-arounder.

“I wanted to be able to get out of gymnastics and still be able to walk,” Barrios said. “But I didn’t want to be one of those people who quits after a couple years.

“It was one of my goals to compete for four years, and I didn’t want to look back and regret it (the decision to quit as a junior).”

Barrios finished 43rd out of 70 performers in the all-around .

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It sounded strange to the Titans when Rogers, the coach who has taken the team to nationals for 11 straight years, told them before the season that they would probably not qualify for nationals.

Nationals without the Titans? Unheard of. But it was a very realistic, if unwelcome, prediction.

Two Titans had quit and Barrios supposedly was retired, considering a career as a stewardess, something less taxing on the joints.

That left Fullerton with just four experienced competitors--a thin lineup and hazy prospects.

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Then Barrios walked back into the gym and discovered that her knee, also the site of major surgery in high school, still had an encore season left in it.

Her return turned the whole picture around. One day in January, she performed a “watered down” version of her old tumbling routine in practice, something she had not been able to attempt for eight months.

The next day, she scored a 9.45 in floor exercise in a dual meet, using some skills she had not dusted off at all since nationals the previous April.

Roni Barrios was back, and so were the Titans. When she was a junior, Rogers had created an award for her. He dubbed it “the Ben Franklin Award.”

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“Ben Franklin said there are two things you can count on in life: death and taxes,” Rogers said. “But Ben Franklin never met Roni Barrios.”


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