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Georgia’s Arnold and Lichey Vault to a 1-2 Finish in All-Around

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Georgia’s Kim Arnold and Karin Lichey are the closest of friends.

And the closest of competitors.

It has been nip and tuck all season, but going into their final event Thursday at the NCAA gymnastics championships at Pauley Pavilion, Lichey had a lead of .025 points in the all-around competition, a sliver ahead of Arnold, the defending NCAA champion.

Lichey’s score of 9.925 in the floor exercise was good.

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But not good enough.

Arnold finished with some terrific tumbling runs to score a 9.975, vaulting ahead of Lichey to repeat as the NCAA all-around champion with a score of 39.725, only .025 ahead of Lichey.

“If anybody beat me, I wanted Kim to,” said Lichey, a junior. “She’s my best friend, and we live together. . . . She’s had just a wonderful career, both this year and last year. To to it off like this her senior year, I’m just so proud.”

Arnold, a senior, became the fourth gymnast in the 18-year history of the NCAA gymnastics championships to repeat as the all-around champion.

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UCLA, seeking to repeat as the team champion, advanced to tonight’s six-team finals by posting its highest score of the year in the second preliminary session, at 196.925.

Only Georgia, at 197.825, scored higher.

The Bruins’ Stella Umeh scored 9.95s on the beam and in the floor exercise, where she had perhaps the day’s most dynamic performance, easily making up for a minor fall from the bars.

“Stella brings gymnastics to its fullest level of artistry,” UCLA Coach Valorie Kondos said. “It’s poetry.”

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The Bruins’ more surprising performance came from freshman Mohini Bhardwaj, a touted prospect who missed much of the season because of an ankle injury. Bhardwaj scored a 9.95 on vault and a 9.925 on bars, but didn’t compete on beam or floor. If she had, she might have challenged Georgia’s stars for the all-around.

“How awesome is she?” Kondos said.

UCLA’s other standout was Kiralee Hayashi, who scored 39.4 in the all-around. But even though UCLA is the defending champion, top-ranked and unbeaten Georgia is the team to beat, using no score lower than a 9.8 Thursday.

“We’re playing to win,” Kondos said. “But it’s kind of nice to know the lowest you can finish is sixth.

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“Our chances are as good as anyone’s.”

Alabama, Arizona State, Florida and Utah also advanced to the finals tonight, when the six remaining teams start over, with Thursday’s scores thrown out.

Michigan, North Carolina State, Brigham Young, Washington, Louisiana State and Penn State failed to qualify for the team finals. Individual event finals are Saturday.

The best score of the day was by Florida’s Susan Hines, the 1997 champion on vault, had a perfect 10 on her second vault, a pike front with a half twist.

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Other than that, Arnold and Lichey came close to stealing the show.

Arnold scored a 9.95 on vault, a 9.9 on bars and a 9.9 on beam before finishing with her best event, a 9.975 on the floor.

“It feels good, I guess,” Arnold said. “But nothing’s going to feel better than if the team wins.”

Lichey also had a 9.95 on vault and a 9.9 on beam and was slightly better than Arnold on the bars, at 9.925, but was beaten out on the floor.

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“I didn’t know what I needed to get, or what she needed to get,” Lichey said. “Today was all about getting the team into the Super Six. That’s what I was focused on.”


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