Friday, April 22, 2005 | 10:58 a.m.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Tasha Schwikert capped her stellar freshman season at UCLA on Thursday night by winning the NCAA all-around championship and leading the Bruins to the verge of their third consecutive first-place trophy at the national meet.
The team final is tonight, with UCLA one of six schools to advance, and Schwikert will try to add to her weekend performance at the individual events finals on Saturday.
Schwikert, a Las Vegas resident and the U.S. all-around champion as a teenager in 2001 and 2002, led the all-around standings Thursday with a 39.725 score, beating out teammate Kristen Maloney (39.625), who placed second, and Alabama's Ashley Miles and Utah freshman Ashley Postell, who shared third place at 39.575.
Schwikert, who was a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympics team in Sydney and an alternate at the 2004 Games in Athens, insisted she was nervous for Thursday night's performance, but it didn't show in her performance.
"It was a good kind of nervousness," she said.
Her all-around score was the highest at an NCAA championship competition since Georgia's Kim Arnold scored 39.725 in 1998. She was the first freshman since Michigan's Elise Ray in 2001 to win the all-around title.
"When I went out there, I was pretty nervous," Schwikert said. "It is kind of different than regular-season meets. However, my coaches were so supportive and my teammates were behind me and it just made the butterflies go away.
"It just made me feel good that I knew the entire team had my back."
Besides winning the all-around title, Schwikert finished in a tie for first on the vault, a tie for first on the bars, a tie for third on the balance beam and a tie for first on the floor exercise.
Her performance helped the Bruins earn a spot in tonight's team final round, when they'll be trying to win their fifth NCAA title in the past six years and become the first team to win three consecutive women's championships since Utah won its sixth in a row in 1995.
Schwikert's sister and fellow UCLA freshman Jordan finished tied for 11th in the all-around standings. Her best efforts were a sixth-place tie on the balance beam and a ninth-place tie in bars.