Rolling Rocks pick up steam

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

In many ways, gymnastics is different from every other collegiate sport. For one, it is one of the only sports in which a team’s toughest opponent can be itself. This was the case for Utah’s gymnastics team Friday night at the Huntsman Center.

It was clear early on that Washington was not going to be posting many scores to keep the meet competitive, so the fact that the Utes came away with a 196.70 to 193.90 win Friday night was probably inevitable. But instead of playing to their opponent’s level, the Red Rocks stayed focused on continuing to prove they are one of the best teams in the country–improving upon their opening score of 196.325 by .375 points.

“We did good as a team–really good, I thought,” Nina Kim said. “I think the team chemistry was a lot better this time around.”

The biggest contributor to Utah’s win was the Red Rock’s most familiar face. Nicolle Ford recovered from the mental funk she was in last week against UCLA as she went on to capture All-Around honors with a score of 39.50.

Ford seemed much more relaxed Friday night, and there was no better example of this than her performance on beam. She could be seen mouthing the words to the James Blount song “You’re Beautiful,” which softly hummed over the Huntsman Center sound system during her routine.

That calm focus allowed Ford to score a meet-high 9.825 on beam, which is all the more impressive given the fact that Ford fell during warm ups and hit her knee hard on the side of the apparatus.

“I’ve never done that before,” Ford said. “Totally missed the beam–just slid down the side.”

Ford’s consistency barely outdid her teammate Ashley Postell’s solid night. Postell finished second in the All-Around for the second-straight week as she matched or set a season high in all four events. This led to a .1-point improvement in the All-Around as well.

The Utes also improved by .1 points on beam, but the Red Rocks are continuing to have difficulties on the sport’s most difficult event.

Kristina Baskett followed up her career-best beam routine last week with a fall that took her out of the running for a second-straight All-Around victory in as many weeks.

Baskett’s fall, however, came on the heels of one of the more exciting moments of the night. On vault, Kristina Baskett performed one of the crispest routines of the young season for the Utes. When Basket stuck her landing, a buzz of anticipation filled the stands.

When the first judge flipped over her score of 10.0, the crowd’s anticipation grew. The second judge didn’t see things quite the same way as the first, but she still awarded Baskett a 9.9, which averaged with the first judge’s score to give the Ute sophomore a 9.95–the highest score for a Ute gymnast this season.

“It feels really good to stick, but to see a 10 flash up there–you don’t see that very much in gymnastics, so it’s kind of cool,” Baskett said.

Other gymnasts that made valuable contributions were Kim, Annie DiLuzio and Jessica Duke. Kim benefited from a full week of practice, after the flu bug hindered her during the week of the UCLA meet. She scored a 9.875 on vault and a 9.8 on beam to set new season highs for herself on both events.

DiLuzio continued to prove why she is going to be so valuable to the Utes as a freshman, nearly duplicating her strong performance in the season opener score-for-score. On beam, DiLuzio’s 9.75 was down from her previous score of 9.775, but this was the only score that didn’t match the solid scores DiLuzio earned in the season opener.

Duke also continued her string of consistency Friday night. Though Duke is the only All-Around competitor yet to post a score of 9.9 or higher for the Red Rocks, her role as leadoff gymnast in every event but bars has been important to Utah’s success. Duke has responded to that role by hitting all six routines she has led the team off on.

Now that the Red Rocks have put together two strong home meets and have worked out the majority of their routines’ early kinks, head coach Greg Marsden is looking forward to seeing how his team responds to the difficulty of performing on someone else’s turf.

“It’s a challenge we need now,” Marsden said. “Now we need to get in someone else’s place and see how they handle that.”

The Red Rocks will make the long trip up to Minnesota next Saturday to take on the nationally ranked Golden Gophers for their first road test of the season.

Notes: Daria Bijak performed in front of her new home crowd for the first time Friday night. She scored a 9.825 in exhibition.

The Utes will likely move into second place as their team score of 196.70 bumped their season average to 196.525 and No. 2 Georgia, who narrowly beat Arkansas by a score of 196.1-196.075, saw their season average fall to 196.48.

The Bulldogs will host the Florida Gators–who are currently No. 1 in the nation–this Saturday.

The next home meet for the Utes will be Feb. 2, when the Utes will play host to nationally ranked Arkansas, Southern Utah and BYU.

Lennie Mahler

Nicolle Ford high fives Ashley Postell as the two helped lead the Red Rocks to victory against Washington University on Friday at the Huntsman Center.