U gymnasts roll into new season

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

When training for upcoming gymnastic seasons gets underway each August, the Red Rock Preview can seem as far away as the end of Finals Week for most college students.

Combine that wait with the plethora of new faces and injuries the Red Rocks have experienced this fall and the days leading up to Dec. 8 can get pretty interesting.

Though the wild ride has been trying at times for the Red Rocks thus far, the gymnastics team enters the Red Rock Preview, and the start of the 2007 season, with a hint of buoyancy.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” head coach Greg Marsden said. “We have a very solid returning core and I know our freshmen are capable; it’s just a matter of them figuring this out and improving as the season goes on.”

This year Marsden has seven freshmen-including redshirt frosh Beth Rizzo-to be exact, and some of those women have already experienced major setbacks.

Daria Bijak, the German National Champion, had knee surgery following her participation in the World Championships and will be unable to train at full strength until January.

Annie DiLuzio, who reported to the team with a bone chip in her elbow, was unable to train with the team for the first month of the preseason. She will not be able to participate in any floor exercises in the foreseeable future.

Stephanie Neff reported to the U with two bulging disks and a stress fracture in her back and has been limited during the preseason. She has, however, started to practice on bars, but trainers and coaches are still unsure of when she will be able to participate in the other three events.

Yet another freshman, Sarah Shire, injured her elbow the week after the Red Rocks returned from the Thanksgiving break, and her injury will force her from fully training with the team for at least three weeks.

Despite the major injuries that have plagued the incoming freshmen, the returning gymnasts have continued to stay relatively injury free through the preseason.

The real test for the U gymnasts will be how they respond to the challenge of being in an unstructured training period during Finals Week and a 10-day Christmas vacation.

“We go home for 10 days and a lot of us-when we go home-there’s not ideal training facilities,” Nicolle Ford said. “If you stay in shape and do cardio and everything everyday, it will take a few days for your gymnastics timing and everything to come back, but if you just sit around and do nothing, then you’re selfish.”

With the Utes picked to be very competitive once again this year, nobody on the U gymnastics squad can afford to be selfish.

“It’s not ideal, because we come back and have a couple weeks to get ready for the first meet, but that’s the way it always is,” Marsden said.

The Utes’ first opponent is no slouch, either.

The UCLA Bruins-who have won four of the last seven NCAA Championships-are the only team to have beaten the Red Rocks at home for the past 27 years. Coming to the Huntsman Center to start the 2007 season, they are ranked No. 5 in the nation.

UCLA will be just the first of many tough match-ups for U gymnasts this season.

The Utes will also face Michigan, Nebraska, Florida and Georgia squads-all of which are in the preseason top-10 this year.

The reigning champion Georgia Bulldogs have been picked as the favorite to win the title again this year with Utah following close behind at No. 2.

“We’re very capable of that ranking, and we hope to give Georgia a run for their money,” said Marsden.

With the amount of talent the Utes have, combined with the fact that Utah will be hosting the NCAA Championships for the first time since 1999, this year is a good opportunity to do just that.

Before Utah embarks on another tough season, U gymnasts get the chance to have a little fun with their fans before the start of the team’s competitive schedule.

“It’s really just to get everybody in the arena to introduce this year’s team, to give people a little preview of what types of things they’re going to see,” Marsden said. “The fun part about it is it’s much more intimate and people have a chance to come down and interact with the athletes and get pictures and autographs.”

The preview also gives the gymnasts- especially the newcomers-the chance to perform in front of one of the best crowds in women’s collegiate sports.

“We’re all really excited to do it?even though it’s just us, it’s so exciting to be in the Huntsman and do gymnastics in there,” Ashley Postell said. “We’re all really excited to start that off and get the season going.”