Georgia on their minds

The No. 3 Utes have been hearing the same question over and over again this year: Can they really beat the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs?

“I think we’re ready for it,” said junior Nicolle Ford of this Monday’s dual meet at the Huntsman Center at 7 p.m. “We’re the only two undefeated teams in the country, and one of us will still come out undefeated. Obviously we want to be that team.” The 12-0 Bulldogs still have a meet against No. 19 Kentucky on Friday in which to tarnish their perfect record, but a win is a relative formality.

Ute coach Greg Marsden hopes his squad can continue its habit of finishing fall-free at home and avoid the falls that have haunted its road journeys.

“What I really would like to do is just put together a good solid meet against them,” Marsden said. “I think Georgia is No. 1 in the nation deservedly, and I just want to measure ourselves against them at our best. Basically, if we lose, I want it to be because they’re a better team.”

The defending NCAA Champions are the only program with a pedigree to rival Marsden’s Utes, with six national championships to the U’s ten. The two programs are highly competitive for the nation’s best recruits, and members of both teams considered attending the other program

“Nobody’s gonna see better college gymnastics (in Salt Lake),” Marsden said. “Both of our rosters are stacked. We have a World Champion (Ashley Postell on the balance beam) and they have an Olympian (Courtney Kupets, a bronze medalist on the uneven bars and the top all-arounder in the nation). With both teams so talented, it should come down to who is the cleanest in hitting their routines.”

The Utes would like to sell out one of the season’s most elite dual-meets, but Marsden accepts that they might fall a little short.

“It’s really hard to sell a venue out these days,” he said. “I think the Jazz are playing, and I don’t know if a meet on Monday night will be a good thing or not.”

A big factor for the U’s prospects will be the health of Ford-the U’s top all-arounder to date this year. After finally recovering from a sore left wrist and declaring herself “pain free,” Ford dislocated the middle joint on her index finger in an accident on bars in practice on Sunday. She is listed as questionable, but the feisty junior has little doubt she’ll be ready to go.

“They have to say that,” Ford said of her questionable status. “It was news to me when I read it in the paper on Monday. I haven’t really done anything on it yet, but I don’t think it should be too much of a problem.”

Marsden said he will take a “wait-and-see” approach with Ford.

“She could go anywhere from one to four events. We’re told that every day this is going to get better, and ‘Queenie’s’ a pretty tough kid.”

Bars will be the toughest apparatus for Ford to come back on and either Dominique D’Oliveira or Gabriella Onodi will likely take her place in the lineup if she’s unable to compete.

Another concern for Marsden will be the performance of freshmen Nina Kim and Kristina Baskett on the biggest stage of their careers Monday night. Both seem to have made the adjustment to college competition of late, and the team has come to depend on them more.

After winning her second all-around title the week before, Baskett posted career bests on vault (9.975) and uneven bars (9.950) at BYU last Friday. Her steady performances have quelled concerns about shaky nerves.

“I competed against Kristina at the club level, and she always had a bit of an inconsistency problem,” Ford said. “She’s worked a lot on her confidence here, and the results are showing.”

Marsden believes that Baskett has the potential to flourish as a college gymnast.

“She was trying to do the international thing, where you have to go in all four events, and everything’s so competitive. This (college) format really emphasizes her strengths. One thing I always noticed about her was that she loved to perform, and I really thought she could be consistent here.”

Kim is also becoming a dependable contributor for the Utes, after hitting her last eight events and posting a career-best 39.350 in the all-around last week. She credits her improved results to better health and dedication in practice.

“My knee’s feeling a little bit better,” Kim said. “It feels good to be in the lineup, but I know that nothing is guaranteed. I just have to come back and work harder after every meet.”

“Nina’s come an extremely long way,” Ford said. “She’s definitely showing her true self now. I think she’s beautiful, and I love her gymnastics. Nina and Kristina both saw it from the stands when they came here last year, but now they’re finally getting used to seeing it from the floor. They’ve gotten into their groove now.”