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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Rules of the road

By Tony Pizza

Every team has a harder time playing on the road than at home; the Utah gymnastics team is no different.

Harsh environments and thousands of booing fans typically make going on the road a challenge. But for the Red Rocks, not having any fans to perform in front of is the biggest challenge when the team competes outside of the Huntsman Center.

The Red Rocks will have their first opportunity to compete in front of a sparse crowd Saturday when the Utes will be in Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

It may seem that competing in front of a smaller crowd would be less pressure, but this is not the case for the Utes. Not only are many of the U gymnasts comfortable in front of the bigger crowds, some actually thrive on it. With bigger crowds comes a sharper focus, because gymnastics is a performance sport.

It’s like the difference between Jerry Seinfeld doing a comedy routine in front of a packed arena versus some comedy club with three people sitting in the back and barely letting out so much as a “Ha.” Gymnasts feed off a large crowd the same way.

“It’s hard for me to get excited for a road meet,” Nicolle Ford said. “We have to get ourselves up because the crowd and the fans aren’t going to do it for us.”

This is what makes going on the road so challenging for head coach Greg Marsden.

“The obstacle is, the team itself (needs) to become the motivation, to get ourselves going and not rely on external factors,” Marsden said. He also said this is what separates the good teams from the great teams.

Another disadvantage of not being at home is the event rotation does not favor the visiting team.

“The other challenge about being on the road is you end on balance beam, and balance beam is the great equalizer,” Marsden said. “Balance beam can?jump up and bite you really quickly.”

The home rotation–sometimes called the Olympic rotation–in women’s gymnastics is performing on vault, bars, beam and floor in that order. The reason this is such an advantage is that it most closely captures the flow gymnasts want to have throughout a meet.

Vault is an explosive event, and the run combined with the aerial acrobatics is the optimal way to start off a meet.

The biggest advantage to having the Olympic rotation is finishing the meet off on the floor rather than beam.

Because of the nerves involved in performing on the four-inch surface the beam has to offer, mistakes on the beam increase for the visiting team, especially during a competitive meet.

This problem is accentuated by the fact that beam has been by far the most challenging event for the Red Rocks this year.

Complicating things for the Utes is the fact that Nicolle Ford and Katie Kivisto are still recovering from illnesses that have kept them out of practice for most of the week.

For other U gymnasts, particularly Daria Bijak, this week has been another week of healing and preparation.

Bijak did an exhibition bar routine last week against Washington, but the 21-year-old freshman will be doing a bars routine for score for the first time against Minnesota.

This week of practice has also been another week of skill and health improvement for freshman Sarah Shire.

If things go as planned, Shire will compete in exhibition on both vault and beam. The main goal for Shire is to perform well enough to possibly work herself into a lineup spot sometime in the near future.

A new week has also given each gymnast the opportunity to work in routine upgrades.

This will be the ninth trip to Minneapolis for the Utes, and the 27th meeting overall.

During that span, the Utes have won all but one of those events, with their only loss coming in Tempe, Ariz. in 2000. Since that loss, the Red Rocks have had their way with the Gophers, as Minnesota has not broken the 195-point mark and Utah has never scored less than 196.

Notes: Minnesota is 0-2 this year despite being nationally ranked to start the season. Their scores have been 194.40 against Iowa State and 191.175 against Penn State.

This will be the first home meet for Minnesota this season.

Kristina Baskett was featured in this week’s Faces in the Crowd section of Sports Illustrated.

Live scoring will be available on the University of Utah athletic department Web site.

The meet begins at 7 p.m. local time.

Lennie Mahler

Every team has a harder time playing on the road than at home; the Utah gymnastics team is no different.

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