Red Rocks look ahead to 2005

The U gymnastics team finished a season last Saturday in which they wound up sixth in the nation, but were ranked in the top four in 10 out of 12 polls. The Utes earned these rankings by putting up five of the 10 best team scores in history, and winning 13 of 14 regular-season dual meets.

Despite these impressive accomplishments, the unfortunate end to their season left many of the Utes looking ahead to their 2005 campaign.

“I think next year we’re going to be better then we were this year,” Annabeth Eberle said. “The freshmen have seen how good we are and they know what to expect at nationals.”

The Utes were a young team in 2004, featuring only two juniors and two seniors in a lineup that also included four sophomores and three freshmen. Another freshman, Jacey Draper, did not compete this year because she was rehabilitating a leg injury.

The Utes are also bringing in a stellar freshman class, including Ashley Postell, a world-class gymnast, and Jessica Duke, an outstanding local product.

“Simply stated, [Postell] is one of the best gymnasts in the world,” U coach Greg Marsden said, “and Jessica is the most talented gymnast to come out of Utah since Deidra Graham.”

Add Eberle’s consistent high level performances, Rachel Tidd and Nicolle Ford’s emergence as the next all-around stars at Utah, and Kristen Riffanacht’s breakout season to the recipe, and it truly looks like one ready for success.

The Utes might have fared better this season if Tidd hadn’t fallen ill before the NCAA Championships. Tidd, although inconsistent on the balance beam, was a standout in every other event, especially on vault, where she registered a 10 against BYU.

Tidd also won the vault at the NCAA regionals despite almost dropping out of the meet due to the illness that kept her out of nationals.

Ford started out the season as the Utes most impressive freshman, but was sidelined with a back injury. During her comeback that featured back-to-back two-event performances, Ford put up three event scores of 9.90 or better in four events. But it was her finish that was most impressive. Ford ended the season with three very impressive postseason meets. Her performance at regionals was outstanding, as Ford turned in an all-around score of 39.550, including a winning uneven bars score of 9.950. She performed equally throughout three days of competition at nationals, placing fourth in the talent-laden uneven bars field at the event championships.

“She handled the pressure really well,” Eberle said. “I’m really proud of her, and I look forward to seeing her grow even more next year.”

Eberle, the North Central region’s gymnast of the year, also looks forward to her senior year where she will no doubt be the main attraction of the Utes’ star studded lineup.

While Eberle carried the team through the beginning of the season, she faltered at the end, accumulating all three of her falls in the postseason.

“With our poor showing at nationals, we lit a fire for next season,” Eberle said. “I’m anxious to prove how good this team really is.”

Next year’s team should be good, but a major concern will be how to replace graduating senior Melissa Vituj, who carried the Utes through the end of this season and the postseason. “Losing Mel is definitely huge, but we have to overcome that,” Eberle said. “We lost Theresa [Kulikowski] last season but we dealt with that, and we still did well. We’ll have to do the same with Mel.”

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