A look through the crystal ball (gymnastics)

By and

Fresh off a No. 2 finish at the NCAA Championships in Corvallis, Ore., the Ute gymnastics squad is no doubt pleased with its success in 2006.

The Red Rocks ended up losing by .95 to Georgia-a landslide in collegiate gymnastics-but they were nonetheless wholly content after the meet.

Many of the Utes were quick to point to the prospects of next year, when the NCAA Championships are in Salt Lake City.

Next year, Nina Kim, Kristina Baskett, Nicolle Ford and Ashley Postell return to form a solid corps of all-arounders that every team in the nation minus Georgia would envy.

Next season also marks the arrival of “one of the best overall recruiting classes we’ve ever had,” said Ute head coach Greg Marsden.

Next year, it seems, nobody will be happy with second-best.

In 2006, the Utes fought a valiant struggle through injuries and sickness, the former taking their toll on Postell, Ford, Gabriella Onodi, Katie Kivisto, Rachel Tidd and Natalie Nicoloff, while the latter circulated throughout the lineup for the better part of three months.

Week by week, the leadoff positions in every event were up for grabs in practice sessions, due in large part to the roster’s instability. It was a difficult situation that may have fostered an added degree of tension within the team.

For many meets, the Utes found themselves relying on inexperienced fringe performers to hit on all four events, leading Marsden to bemoan his lack of depth on myriad occasions.

Look at Georgia, he often said. That’s the way a team is supposed to look.

Considering the Gymdogs are helmed by archrival Suzanne Yoculan, it’s clear that Marsden wasn’t offering his praise in helpless mercy. He was stoked by a vision, one that many anxious fans are starting to share.

In 2007, depth seems an unlikely problem for the Utes, since Marsden has a list of new arrivals that SLC International Airport would envy.

U.S. National Team members Sarah Shire and Annie DiLuzio will likely contend for all-around slots “from the day they step on campus,” Marsden said.

As too will German National Team member Daria Bijak, who Marsden compares to Ford, the team’s current No. 2 all-arounder.

And that’s not even the end of the 2007 class. Most other programs in the nation would be thrilled just to be adding junior elite standouts and Ute signees Chelsea Coleman, Jamie Deetscreek and Stephanie Neff. For the Utes, they’ll be fighting for chances to compete.

In his estimation of next season, Marsden also probably foresees the continued development of Baskett and Kim, who showed flashes of brilliance in every event this season and were becoming more consistent in the later weeks.

Postell may not be completely finished developing her talents, either. Possessing as much potential as any gymnast in the nation, Postell struggled slightly at the NCAA Championships and still found herself on a level with Alabama’s Ashley Miles, LSU’s April Burkholder and Nebraska’s Emily Parsens.

For anybody else that would be enough, but it was obvious that Postell was a little more dissatisfied than most at the conclusion of events.

Georgia’s Courtney Kupets won the all-around this weekend. Kupets also won three different event titles and led Georgia to their second-straight national championship and undefeated season by hitting every single routine in team qualifying and finals.

Kupets was unquestionably the best last weekend, and the ultra-competitive Postell won’t rest until she does something to change that. In other words, look for even more mind-bogglingly difficult routines from her next season.

All in all, the future seems to paint a pretty picture for the Utes.

Seniors Gritt Hofmann, Dominique D’Oliveira, Nicoloff, Onodi and Kristen Riffanacht are all leaving, and the team will mourn their absence. But the Utes move on and a National Championship may await.