Cougars scheduled for de-clawing

In at least one arena, Utah-BYU is less of a “rivalry” and more of a “formality.”

The undefeated No. 3 Ute gymnastics team (8-0) enters tonight’s meet against the 3-4 Cougars in Provo with an 18-game winning streak over its faux arch-nemesis, and the U leads the all-time series by a whopping 76-2.

In spite of the U’s utter dominance, the meet still holds a little extra significance for the participants.

“Everyone kind of looks forward to this meet,” Utah’s Ashley Postell said. “Even if it’s not real competitive, the name still matters.”

Vault and bars specialist Jessica Duke has strong ties with the school to the south.

“I’m really excited about it,” Duke said. “My parents went there, and my dad was president of the student body. I grew up following them in football and basketball, but I always rooted for Ute gymnastics.”

Duke, who also has two brothers attending BYU, is taking on an expanded role with the Utes as head coach Greg Marsden continues to search for depth.

“They can depend on me more now, my role is definitely changing,” Duke said. The sophomore is capable of going all-around and has hit 38 of 39 career routines.

The Utes fell to No. 3 in the polls this week after the rankings changed to reflect regional qualifying scores-in which a team’s best and worst scores are thrown out. The Utes are now just .050 behind No. 2 Florida and just .020 ahead of No. 4 Alabama, but with those two programs off this weekend, Marsden’s squad will have a valuable opportunity to gain ground tonight.

Crucial to those aspirations is consistency, the buzzword around Ute practices of late.

“We’re gonna have people going up and down all season,” Greg Marsden said. “We have to have people who can step up when others are struggling.”

Last weekend, it was Postell and Nicolle Ford’s turn for an off night.

“Nicky doesn’t like what happened the other night,” the 31-year head coach said of Ford. “It was an unusual thing. She came in on fire for us this year.”

Postell fell on her difficult floor routine for the third consecutive week, prompting Marsden to consider toning it down a tad.

“We haven’t talked about changing it yet, but Greg has mentioned the possibility of doing something different as soon as next week,” Postell said. “It will depend on how well I do with it.”

“She needs to get more consistent,” Marsden said. “She’s trying to do a lot in that routine. I just told her, ‘Please understand, the judges won’t reward you for that difficulty if you fall.'”

Marsden has said before that Postell needs to do something unique to fulfill her competitive urges, and Postell agrees.

“I’ve always had that hunger to compete since I was younger,” she said. “I like to separate myself from everyone else.”

One area the Utes have improved on is the balance beam. After counting a couple of falls in the event earlier this season, the lineup has fared well recently.

“In general, we have a good nucleus of people to lead the way on beam,” said Megan Marsden, who coaches balance beam for the Utes. “Our gymnasts have a good dialogue and seem to enjoy firing it up. They know how to turn it on when they need to.”

She went on to explain that competing on the beam requires a unique approach.

“We talk about a ‘quiet intensity’ on beam. It’s about being aggressive in a slightly different way,” she said. “We still tell our girls to attack the beam, but obviously four inches doesn’t give you a lot of room to go wrong. It takes a little bit more precision and that makes it a little more difficult to be decisive in the moment. There is so much time for thought.”

Freshmen Nina Kim and Kristina Baskett have both suffered falls in the pressure-packed event this year as both adjust to collegiate competition.

“Nina seems to have a pretty good approach,” Megan Marsden said. “Kristina’s had problems in competition before, especially on beam. She made us aware of that coming in. We just need to work on it before the NCAAs when it’s just one of four events, and she doesn’t necessarily deal with it first or last. If she stays on, she gets a big score, but it kind of seems like all or nothing with her.”