Meet the gymnasts

The U gymnastics team will perform in the Huntsman Center for the first time this season in the second-annual Utah gymnastics Sneak Peek today at 7 p.m. The free event will include an intra-squad scrimmage, team introductions, and a player meet-and-greet session.

“We’ll run it like a meet,” U head coach Greg Marsden said. “There won’t be any judging, and some of the girls might back off a little on their dismounts, but it will be at least 90 percent of what you’ll see against UCLA.”

The Red Rocks are still a month away from their season opener against the two-time defending national champion UCLA Bruins, but most of the gymnasts are already performing their best routines in preparation.

“It’s always a great challenge to open against somebody good, and it motivates you to be better at that point than you would be if you opened against a weaker opponent,” Marsden said.

Last year, the Utes began the season with a victory over UCLA in Los Angeles, and it set them up for a strong 13-1 season in which they finished sixth in the NCAA Team Championships.

“I’m sure there’s payback on their minds,” Marsden said. “But they’re the champs so we want a little revenge too.”

The Utes return a very strong team this year, and have added four excellent recruits, who will appear in front of the Huntsman Center crowd for the first time tonight. Among these new recruits is the 2002 World Balance Beam Champion, Ashley Postell, who is coming off injuries that ended her Olympic hopes. She is one among several anxious Utes who are ready to see what they can do in a competitive format.

“It’s an opportunity for us to get on the floor a month before the first meet, and see where we stand,” Marsden said. “It’s a great opportunity to judge ourselves.”

The Red Rocks will use the exhibition meet to tweak their routines in small ways and figure out what weaknesses they have to eliminate before they face UCLA and the rest of their highly competitive slate of opponents.

Annabeth Eberle, Rachel Tidd, Nicolle Ford, and Kristen Riffanacht are all back and hoping to compete in the all-around competition week in and week out. They will receive competition, however, from new comers like Postell, Katie Kivisto, and Jessica Duke, as well as sophomore Stephanie Lim, who competed very well last year despite having incurred a bad knee injury less than a year before the season started.

Natalie Nicoloff, Dominique D’Oliveira, Gabriella Onodi and Gritt Hofmann, are also returning and will be fighting for spots in various events.

The competition for the right to compete against UCLA will take center stage tonight, and that should be reflected in the Red Rocks’ performances.

Marsden, however, feels that because competition is still a month away, there are more important things to focus on.

“The most important thing is that we have all 12 gymnasts healthy right now,” Marsden said. “To start the season with the whole team healthy is very important.”

Because of this focus, there will be spotters during certain events, and some of the gymnasts might take precautions in their routines, but nonetheless, Marsden said he promises a great show.

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