Utes and Cougars play nice

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

Over the years, blood has been spilled, harsh words have been exchanged and families have been divided because of the rivalry between BYU and Utah-except in gymnastics.

The crowds may be a little bigger come Friday when BYU joins Utah, Arkansas and Southern Utah at the Huntsman Center, but the atmosphere is a little different from the one present at a basketball or football game between the two in-state rivals.

“We always know BYU will come in completely ready?they want to beat us,” junior Jessica Duke said. “It’s not as much pressure as football or basketball. It’s definitely not intense.”

A BYU gymnast might even receive some rousing applause from the crimson-clad faithful if she turns in a good performance.

“Gymnastics is a little friendlier sport?but there is that rivalry,” said U gymnastics coach Greg Marsden. “It’s a little more positive environment. It’s usually more cheering for your team than jeering for the opponent.”

Usually, a Utah team would like nothing more than to beat the team down south, and although the Utes can’t take the No. 22 Cougars lightly, BYU won’t be at the forefront of the Red Rocks’ minds come game time.

No. 13 Arkansas will be the team Marsden will be most concerned about, mostly because the Razorbacks will be the first litmus test on how the Utes stack up against SEC teams like Georgia and Florida this year.

Although Arkansas sits at a paltry 1-7 on the year thus far, its competition has been nothing short of brutal.

The Razorbacks have already faced No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Georgia, No. 6 Nebraska and No. 12 Denver, as well as competing against No. 13 LSU and No. 23 Penn State twice.

Thus far, Arkansas’ biggest bright spot of the season came on Jan. 19 when the Razorbacks took Georgia to the wire, only to fall .025 point shy of the upset in the end.

The one thing the Utes will not be doing Friday is measuring themselves against Arkansas, or anyone else, during the meet.

The Red Rocks have enough talent to beat anyone in the nation, which means they will be focusing on hitting their routines and letting the results take care of themselves.

The Utes’ starting lineup will differ slightly from the one Marsden has used during the first three meets of the season.

Marsden feels that freshmen Sarah Shire and Beth Rizzo have earned a shot at the starting lineup. Both gymnasts will get the chance to shine in front of their home crowd for the first time on Friday.

Shire will try to duplicate the strong showing she had on vault and beam last week, where she scored a 9.875 and a 9.8, respectively.

Rizzo, who has had two strong floor exhibitions of her own, will get the chance to make her starting debut on floor this weekend.

For the gymnasts who have made a habit of showing their faces in the starting lineup, routine upgrades and consistency have been the theme in practice this week.

Annie DiLuzio, Ashley Postell and Kristina Baskett are in position to put upgrades in their floor routines if all goes well in pre-meet warm-ups.

“I’m very excited-if all goes as planned-to finally get back to where I was last year,” Baskett said. “What’s new is the double pike at the end of my last pass?hopefully soon I can do the double full layout.”

Baskett will also be adding a half-twist to her vault.

Nicolle Ford has fully recovered from a head cold that limited her to one of the worst performances of her collegiate career last week. She is another gymnast that could unleash an upgrade if Marsden gives the consent.

“On floor, my first pass, I’ve been trying to get in a double layout,” Ford said. “Maybe I’ll warm it up tomorrow and if all goes well, maybe (Marsden) will let me work it.”

Marsden is also hopeful that his team can finally storm through a full beam rotation without complication.

“The one that we still haven’t just absolutely nailed that we need to get to is balanced beam,” Marsden said. “We need to get to where we want to do routines there and not making all the little balance checks and it still looks like we’re being conservative.”

Notes: Utah has only faced Arkansas one time, which was at the 2004 Regional Championships in Tucson, Ariz. Utah beat the Razorbacks 197.624-195.550. Utah also holds a 78-2 record over BYU and a 13-0 record over SUU. The last time the Utes lost to the Cougars was in 1998. The Utes have never lost to the Cougars at home.

The meet begins at 7 p.m. at the Huntsman Center. Students get in free with their UCards.