Ute Gymnasts Idle in Prep for NCAAS

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The U gymnastics team is six days away from its 27th straight national championships, with the 2002 version taking place from April 18-20 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

So how is the team preparing for a run at the university’s 11th national title in its practice regimen?

“We’re cutting back on everything a little, but we still practice three hours a day,” U coach Greg Marsden said.

Utah is trying to do everything it can to remain in its current form, which resulted in a 198.425 versus BYU in the U’s final regular season meet and its 197.100 Regionals score that qualified them to the NCAAs.

Should the Utes qualify in the top three of their afternoon session on Thursday, April 18, they would advance to the team finals the night of Friday, April 19, before individual competition gets underway Saturday, April 20.

If Utah advances to Friday competition, Marsden will be careful with senior fighter Deidra Graham. Graham is slated to go in the all-around Friday, but there is the concern that bulging back disks could force Graham to a more limited role.

Graham’s injury forced the staple all-arounder to compete in just one events for five straight weeks during the regular season.

Luck o’ the Draw?

Utah randomly drew a tough pool in the afternoon session, including No. 3 Georgia (196.125 score at Regionals), No. 5 Michigan (195.600), No. 6 LSU (196.450), No. 8 Nebraska (195.925) and No. 12 Arizona (194.950).

But although the 1 p.m. (CDT) session comprises four teams that made last year’s Super Six, coach Marsden said the placement in the later session isn’t necessarily a disadvantage.

“I like the afternoon session because it allows you to get to the hotel, eat and get to bed early.

“In the evening session, competition doesn’t end until 10 0r 10:30, and it’s tough to get a good night’s rest,” Marsden said.

Rested or not, the top three teams from each session advance to the Super Six championship round Friday.

Since the inception of the Super Six format in 1993, the Red Rocks have not made the qualifying cut twice?in 1997 and 1999. In addition, the Utes have never won an opening day qualifying round.

When the Utes take to the floor of the Coleman Coliseum, they do so with the exact same rotation of events as they had at last year’s championships, in which the Utes finished tied for fifth place.

The U starts with a bye, followed by floor, vault, another bye, the uneven bars and finally its strongest event, the balance beam.

End of the Road

Next weekend’s festivities will mark the end of the career for three proven U gymnasts.

Seniors Deidra Graham, Lindsay Tanner and Shannon Bowles all will be competing for the last time in a Red Rock uniform.

Graham and Bowles are both six-time All-Americans and former U.S. National Team members, and Tanner has never suffered a fall in 52 career performances.

“They are big losses, but that’s the nature of college athletics,” Marsden said.

“I tell all my gymnasts that with their intelligence, hard work and talent, the best things in life are yet to come. Those qualities will allow them to continue to be successful in all that they do.”

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