Red Rocks pound Huskers

The No. 1 U gymnastics team proved once again that it is once again among the nation’s elite, as the Red Rocks repeated the runaway success of their first meet in an equally impressive 196.90-194.325 victory over No. 3 Nebraska at the Huntsman Center Friday night.

Annabeth Eberle put on a clinic, winning three events and placing second in a fourth on her way to a blowout victory in the all-around.

“I was just trying to stay relaxed out there and do the things I do in the gym,” Eberle said.

Preventing Eberle from a clean sweep was U freshman Rachel Tidd, who scored a 9.925 on the bars, besting Eberle’s 9.90. Tidd competed in three events despite nursing shin splints in her left leg. Her performance showed no signs of injury, however, as she tied Eberle for first on the beam with 9.90 and placed third on the vault with 9.85.

With these strong performances, the meet was never really in question as the Cornhuskers had falls in every event, including two falls on both the bars and the floor competition.

“I apologize that this wasn’t really Nebraska gymnastics tonight,” head coach Dan Kendig said.

Although he readily acknowledged his team’s shortcomings, Kendig was reluctant to make excuses for the poor performance, despite the fact that there were plenty of them.

First and foremost, his team was without 2003 all-around champion Richelle Sampson, who did not compete because of a very rare bone decay injury to her tibia.

In addition to the absence of their star, the Huskers had to endure several traveling difficulties that resulted in them having to catch an 8 a.m. flight from Omaha the morning of the meet.

“I know they’re a much better team than the way they performed tonight,” Utah coach Greg Marsden said.

Nebraska was not the only team without a star, as Utah senior Veronique Leclerc was sidelined due to an ankle sprain. She was slated to compete on the bars but re-aggravated the injury in warmups and was unable to go. According to Marsden, it doesn’t seem too severe, but she will undergo an MRI to “eliminate doubt.”

Injuries aside, the meet began with the Utes on the vault and Eberle, Tidd and fellow freshman Nicolle Ford performing solidly enough to overcome an uncharacteristic fall by Melissa Vituj.

“I thought we were a little nervous on vault because it was the first meet at home,” Marsden said. “But once we got past that first event, I felt we just got stronger and stronger.”

The Red Rocks upped the intensity on the bars as Tidd, Eberle and Ford finished 1-2-3 on the apparatus, widening the gap between their Utes and the Huskers to a full point and a half.

The beam was the worst event for the Utes-and the best for the Huskers-but the Utes still prevailed by a score of 49.050 48.925. Things were looking bad for the Red Rocks after Ford fell during her difficult routine, but Eberle picked up the slack by nailing her routine and solidifying the confidence of her team.

The Utes finished up on the floor, which featured another flawless performance by Eberle, and a crowd-rousing show put on by Gritt Hoffman, who added new elements to her already difficult routine.

The Red Rocks were in control from start to finish, and showed little to no letdown from their season opener against UCLA-a fact that the gymnasts and the coaches recognized as a paramount achievement.

“This meet was really important, not just because of the score, but mostly to come back from UCLA, come back from the high and do well,” Eberle said. “We were excited about beating UCLA, but we didn’t let it go to our heads and we kept focused on what we needed to do. Everyone on the team put forth a really good effort.”

Marsden was also very pleased with the effort, especially given the precedent his team had set for itself the previous week.

“I’m really growing to love this team,” Marsden said. “You don’t know what you’ve got until you get out on the competitive floor, but it hit me in the face after last week that this is a group that loves to compete.”

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