Red Rocks going to Provo

The No. 1 U gymnastics team heads to Provo today to take on its nemesis, No. 11 BYU, in a grudge match between rivals. The meet, which takes place at the Marriott Center, begins at 7 p.m. and will be televised on KBYU.

The Red Rocks will once again be a woman down as All American Veronique Leclerc will sit this one out with an ankle injury.

“[Leclerc] reinjured her ankle in the warmups against Nebraska, so we feel like we need to back off for a couple of weeks and let that ankle heel before we test it again,” U coach Greg Marsden said.

Although Marsden will make his final decision tonight, he did offer some speculation on Leclerc’s replacement.

“Stephanie [Lim] was the one who stepped in last week and took Veronique’s place on vault and bars for us, and we expect her to do the same against BYU,” he said.

Much like every other matchup involving the Red Rocks, this one has been typically one-sided. Utah has won 71 of 73 meetings between the two squads since 1976, when the rivalry began.

The two Cougar victories came in 1994 and 1998, both taking place in Provo and both occurring during the regular season. But the Cougars have not tasted victory against the Utes in their last 13 attempts.

The head coach of BYU, however, claims the Utes have reason to be scared of these Cougars.

“[BYU coach] Brad Cattermole has been saying that this is the best team he’s ever had, and I think they demonstrated that last week up at Boise State,” Marsden said.

The demonstration he referred to was BYU’s 196.275-193.525 win last Friday over the Broncos. The Cougars’ score, which was good enough for the No. 11 national ranking, still doesn’t top either of the Utes’ two scores this season, but Marsden still believes the Utes have sufficient reason to worry.

“This meet always comes down to the last event, and often to the last performance or two,” Marsden said, “They’re always up for us, especially now that we’re No. 1.”

The Cougars’ top all-around performer, Jaime Mabray, will have to perform better than she has all year if she expects to beat Utah junior Annabeth Eberle, who is currently the country’s No. 5 in the all-around. Mabray’s season best score is 38.95, which is more than half a point lower than Eberle’s worst.

Even if Eberle falters, the Red Rocks can expect breakout performances from senior Melissa Vituj and freshman Nicolle Ford, who have both been on the cusp of hitting all four events for the past two weeks.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before [Ford] comes out and hits all four events, and when she does, it’s going to be a big score,” Marsden said.

In the first two meets, Ford has missed only on the balance beam, but has been virtually flawless on the rest of the apparatus.

Vituj’s performance against UCLA was compromised only by a fall on the bars. She was brilliant otherwise, scoring a 9.90 on vault, and owns the nation’s current No. 3 score on beam (9.95).

Against Nebraska, she was caught off-guard by the judge in her first event and was told to go out of turn. Not wanting to risk disqualification, Vituj rushed into her vault without proper mental preparation and missed the landing. Like a golfer who triple bogeys the first hole of a tournament, she was never able to recover.

The Red Rocks still managed a decisive victory over the No. 3 Cornhuskers, despite Vituj’s off night and Leclerc’s night off, thanks to the incredible depth on this year’s squad.

In the vault alone, the Utes have eight competitors with 10.0 capability, something Marsden has never seen on any of his squads.

Lim, one of the vaulters capable of perfection, was told she would vault just minutes before the meet began, and still managed a 9.775.

All in all, this Ute squad is full of competitors who work hard in the gym and show up on Friday nights.

“I really like the demeanor of this team, especially in competition,” Marsden said. “It’s a great group to work with in the gym, but it’s really exciting to work with them in a competition situation. So far, they don’t seem to be intimidated by anyone or any situation. They’re just having fun.”

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