Red Rocks rebound with dual meet win

With its star gymnast in street clothes last Friday for a meet against No. 24 Arizona State and Air Force, the U gymnastics team needed someone to step up big to prevent a second loss in as many meets.

Senior co-captain Melissa Vituj did just that, as she turned in her best all-around score of the season (39.650), and the first 10.0 floor routine of her career en route to a narrow 196.850-196.500 victory.

“The team did everything I asked, except stay on the beam,” U head coach Greg Marsden said. “We had a great start on the bars and, despite our falls on beam, we continued to upgrade our floor routines, and I thought our vaults were exceptional.”

The Sun Devils, who the week before had turned in an atrocious 193.925, were obviously glad to be home, and it showed in their performance. If not for two falls in their final event, they might have handed the Utes their second loss of the season.

But the battered Red Rocks were not to be outdone.

On their first event, the Utes jumped out in front on the strength of their best bars performance of the year (49.4). ASU sat in second place with a vault score of 48.85, and Air Force wasted no time establishing that it would be a two-team meet, as they scored a pathetic 47.10 on the balance beam.

The Utes stumbled badly in their next event, however, and after counting a fall on the balance beam, dropped behind Arizona State, 98.20-97.95.

The third event, floor exercise, was Utah’s finest, and it propelled the Red Rocks to a slim 147.5-147.35 lead. Led by Vituj’s 10.0, no Ute had a routine scored lower than 9.875, and their team score of 49.550 was the highest of the season for that event.

The Red Rocks finished the night on vault and despite tremendous vaults by Vituj and freshmen Nicolle Ford and Rachel Tidd, it looked like the Utes would lose, thanks to the Sun Devils’ strong floor exercise scores.

Sun Devil hopes were dashed, however, when Cassandra Jussino fell during her routine in the fifth spot, and forced her team to count one of the two falls that took place during that event.

Vituj’s and Tidd’s vaults were especially clutch. Knowing they had to land them to secure a win, they did more than that, scoring a 9.925, and 9.875, respectively.

The win for the Red Rocks was especially impressive given the injuries and agitations they have suffered over the past two weeks.

Not only were they without Annabeth Eberle, the No. 4 all around gymnast in the country, but they were also without junior Gritt Hofmann, who specializes in floor and beam routines.

Compounding those injuries was Ford’s sore back, which prevented her from training all week, and the head cold she had that kept Stephanie Lim out of the lineup one week ago.

The Utes, however, were not to be held down, thanks to outstanding performances by Vituj, sophomore Kristen Riffanacht and Ford.

Vituj placed second in the all around behind Ashley Kelly of ASU, and was clutch all night long when she had to be.

“I was so happy for Mel. She has been so close to that 10.0 so many times, and has deserved it before. I’m glad she got it before her career is over,” Marsden said.

Ford also overcame the various impediments and turned in her second-best all-around performance of the year (39.525).

She was the solid gymnast the Utes needed when they were in danger of slipping out of contention.

Not to be outdone was Kristen Riffanacht, who was extremely solid once again out of the leadoff position, and on her first competitive beam routine of the season.

“Kristen was just amazing on beam,” marveled Marsden. “She hasn’t even done an exhibition beam routine since coming here. Now it looks like she’s earned a spot in the lineup. She had a great night overall (scoring a 9.825 on vault and a 9.875 on floor).”

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