Rocks hope to roll in season opener

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

Almost 27 years ago, the U gymnastics team began one of the most unparalleled streaks in college sports–a 170-meet home winning streak–when it beat the University of Arizona on March 3, 1979.

Nearly four years ago to the day–on Jan. 10, 2003–the UCLA Bruins came into the Jon M. Huntsman Center and beat the Red Rocks on their home floor for the first time in more than 23 years.

As the Bruins come into Salt Lake City to kick off the Utes’ season for the fifth-straight year, the Red Rocks only own a two-game home winning streak, but the magnitude of the meet between the two teams hasn’t tapered off one bit.

This year, Utah holds a No. 2 ranking in the preseason polls, while UCLA holds the No. 5 spot, but those rankings don’t reflect the impact injuries have had on the Red Rocks’ roster.

The good news for the Utes is that 10-time All-American Ashley Postell has recovered enough from a week-old heel injury that threatened to keep the U’s strongest gymnast out of the All-Around lineup to start the season.

What a difference a week makes.

“It’s definitely a lot better than it was a week ago,” Postell said. “I really didn’t think it was going to be almost completely healed, but it pretty much is, and I don’t have anything to worry about.”

Nicolle Ford also feels great. A cortisone shot in her left hip has left her feeling confident and “basically pain-free,” as she put it, entering the 2007 campaign.

Reigning bars national champion Kristina Baskett will join Ford and Postell as the three Utes competing in the All-Around competition.

UCLA comes in with a convincing win over Washington in its season opener. Ford and head coach Greg Marsden both agree that having a meet under their belt gives UCLA a slight advantage against the Utes.

Though the regularly packed Huntsman Center gives the Red Rocks one of the most impressive home advantages in gymnastics, five of Utah’s gymnasts will be performing in front of the large crowds for the first time as well.

The freshman that will get the most exposure in the U’s opening meet will be Annie DiLuzio. DiLuzio is slated to compete in three events–bars, vault and floor–against the Bruins.

Jamie Deetscreek is another freshman who could find herself performing tonight, especially if Nina Kim is unable to perform because of a bad flu bug she has had since returning from Winter Break.

Although none of the freshmen know exactly what it’s like to perform in front of a crowd that should swell well above the 10,000 mark, they are no less excited to finally get the opportunity to have a taste of what it is like.

“It’s going to be such a cool experience being in the Huntsman with all those people,” DiLuzio said. “There’s going to be nerves, but hopefully not that bad.”

UCLA will bring three freshmen, including Anna Li, who won the All-Around for UCLA last week with a score of 39.0. It’s not likely that Li–or any of the other UCLA freshmen–have performed in front of crowd as big as the one they will face in Utah, but UCLA does have three gymnasts that know all about performing well in front of big crowds in pressure situations.

Sisters Tasha and Jordan Schwikert are both All-Americans and Tasha–the older of the two–was the All-Around National Champion back in 2005. Kristina Comforte also is an All-American on vault and in the All-Around.

Though injuries and illness have slowed down the Red Rocks’ progress during training, Marsden maintains that he is cautiously optimistic that his team will find success against UCLA and the rest of the Utes’ schedule.

Marsden also hesitates to say that his gymnasts’ routines will be watered down to start the season. It is no secret they will not contain the elements that his returning gymnasts will be adding to their routines as the season goes on, but the routines are the same ones the Utes did at nationals during their second-place finish in 2006.

“We’re going to be a little thin early in the season, and we’re going to have to back off with some things we hoped to start with just to make sure we’re out there and giving ourselves a chance to be consistent,” Marsden said.

The goal for the Utes in the opening meet will be to stick routines and finally get in an atmosphere in which Marsden can assess what his team really needs to work on. Either way, the Utes feel confident that facing UCLA is a great way to kick off the season.

Notes: Daria Bijak is still recovering from the arthroscopic knee surgery she had at the end of October. She will not be available for any of tonight’s events.