Breath of fresh air

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

From the moment this year’s freshmen walked onto the U campus, Greg Marsden has stressed how vital these gymnasts will be to the Utes’ National Championship hopes.

For Marsden and the Red Rock freshmen, it’s been a bumpy ride ever since.

That ride began with a preseason that had more question marks than the lime-green spandex Jim Carrey wore in “Batman Forever.”

One of the biggest questions centered around Sarah Shire.

Before the regular season, Shire–like most of her freshman teammates–hadn’t been progressing the way Marsden would have liked. But she certainly wasn’t sticking out like a sore thumb, either.

A few weeks before the Red Rocks went on break for Thanksgiving, Shire fell victim to an elbow injury during practice. The rehabilitation process kept her from fully participating in practice until the team went on its finals break in mid-December.

That along with other injuries basically limited the freshmen, with the exception of Annie DiLuzio, to the sidelines to provide vocal support for their teammates–that is, until last Saturday’s meet against Minnesota.

Since the beginning of the season, Marsden has challenged his freshmen both privately and publicly. On Saturday, Shire and fellow freshmen Daria Bijak and Beth Rizzo answered those challenges.

Although Shire was slated to run two exhibition routines on vault and beam, she received a surprising request when Marsden told her she would be doing a beam routine for score on Saturday.

“When Greg told me at first, I kinda looked at him and was like, ‘What?'” Shire said. “He asked me, ‘Are you ready?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve trained for this.'”

That training translated into an impromptu beam routine that proved Shire might be ready for a starting spot as well.

Shire put together a solid 9.8 routine, which not only helped the Red Rocks beat Minnesota, but also gave her a chance to prove herself in front of the home crowd this weekend.

“Sarah (Shire) was ready to go,” Marsden said. “We just put her in and hoped that she’d take advantage of the opportunity, and she did.”

At the very least, the recent success of the U freshmen has made competing for starting spots interesting, which will only make the team better as the season progresses.

“I’ve said from the earliest preseason interview that (the freshmen) were going to determine how good we are this year,” Marsden said. “Especially after the first meet, they started getting it?and they’re starting to demonstrate why we recruited them.”

Shire is tentatively scheduled to compete on beam and vault when the Utes host a four-team meet this Friday at the Huntsman Center.

Rizzo is also scheduled to perform from the starting lineup for the first time this Friday. The redshirt freshman will make her first appearance on floor.

Bijak will have a spot in the starting lineup with a chance to improve on the 9.725 she scored on bars against Minnesota.

There is one downside to the recent freshman success. Jessica Duke, who has competed in the All-Around in all three of the Utes’ meets thus far, will likely be an alternate on beam and vault this weekend to make room for the freshman emergence.

The Utes will play host to No. 13 Arkansas, No. 22 BYU and Southern Utah on Friday. The meet will start at 7 p.m.

Christopher Peddecord

Freshman gymnast Sarah Shire performs a floor routine at the Red Rocks Preview on Dec. 8. Shire pulled off a 9.8 beam routine Saturday at Minnesota.