Gymnasts Take on Minnesota

The Utah gymnastics team has to live up to its No. 2 billing tonight, because the competition isn’t getting any easier.

After disposing of then-No. 18 Ohio State and then-No. 7 Arizona, Utah gets its second top-10 opponent in as many weeks. Tonight, the Red Rocks (2-0) welcome former assistant Jim Stephenson and his No. 7 Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-1) to the Huntsman Center.

The meet begins at 7 p.m. and will be the last for the Utes before the Olympics delay another home date until March 9 (five straight away meets).

Stephenson, a Ute assistant for four years, was on staff when Utah won national titles in 1990 and 1992.

In 2002, Stephenson’s Gophers have topped Illinois and then-No. 8 Stanford, but most recently lost to No. 11 Michigan on Jan. 19. In the 195.125-195.025 loss to the Wolverines, Carolyn Yernberg won the vault (9.825) and Mary Skokut won bars (9.875).

Senior gymnast MaryAnne Kelley, who was the reigning Big Ten Gymnast of the Week after a 39.375 in the all around, fell to a 38.075 all around score against Michigan.

U coach Greg Marsden knows Stephenson’s Gophers cannot be overlooked.

“It appears as if this may be one of their most talented teams. They should provide another good early-season test for us,” Marsden said.

However, the beauty of gymnastics is that a team’s biggest opponent is itself.

For the Utes to run their consecutive regular season home win total to 166, they need to worry about how they perform, and the team needs improvement on vault.

“Although I feel we are poised to become a very good team on vault, that continues to be the event where we need the most improvement,” Marsden said.

In the Utes’ first two meets, the vault was the lowest scoring event for the U. Against Ohio State, the Utes scored 48.775 and against Arizona, the mark was 48.500.

Of the four events?vault, floor, beam and bars?the Utes have scored sub-49s only on the vault.

“[Success on the vault] will probably determine just how far we can go as a team,” Marsden said.

Last week, German newcomer Gritt Hofmann sat down on vault and Shannon Bowles buried herself on the pommel horse, resulting in scores in the 9.200s.

However, a plus for the Utes was that, besides vault, every event score improved from the season opener.

The best team score came off the floor (49.625). Bowles and the return of Theresa Kulikowski (the 1999 NCAA champion hadn’t competed in the event in two years) to the floor resulted in scores of 9.950 for both.

Meanwhile, Melissa Vituj recorded an all-around victory in the first all-around of the sophomore’s career (39.575), in pulling away from teammate Veronique LeClerc (39.525).

Also, Kim Allan returned from her ACL tear last season to compete on three events, and senior Kylee Wagner’s sprained ankle could be ready for competition in two weeks, Marsden said.

Throw in the howls of the nearly 10,000 people at the Huntsman Center, and it appears the only opponent that can beat the Utes Friday night is themselves.

[email protected]