The good, the bad and the hopefully not-so-ugly

By By Tony Pizza and By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

All season long, the U gymnastics team has had shades of brilliance, but something has always brought the Red Rocks back to reality. Friday’s meet against the Michigan Wolverines was no different.

Despite cruising to a 196.225-193.800 win over the visiting Wolverines, the Utes took a major shot to the chin when Nicolle Ford short-landed a double layout in her first floor pass and fell to the mat in pain. Shortly thereafter, Ford limped to the locker room with a right-ankle injury and was unable to finish the meet.

“I don’t think it’s anything serious. It’s been sore since last week,” Ford said. “Every time I land short, it’s kind of painful, but that one (on Friday) was just really bad. I don’t know what I did.”

Before Ford’s fall, the Utes were on a fast track toward their best performance of the season.

The Utes came out of the gates like teenagers on the last day of school, hell-bent on savoring every second of summer vacation. Jessica Duke started the Red Rocks off with a 9.8, and the Utes never looked back. The following three Utes all posted 9.875s before Kristina Baskett and Ashley Postell closed the rotation with consecutive 9.9s to capture a season-high 49.425 on vault.

The Utes were so pumped up, it seemed like excitement would start seeping from their ears. Baskett, who nailed her newly inserted half-twist upgrade, leapt into U head coach Greg Marsden’s arms after the stick.

“I just got real excited, and I like to give hugs,” Baskett said.

The Red Rocks’ wave of emotion didn’t stop on vault. Five of the six Utes posted 9.825s or higher, including another solid performance from Baskett. After posting just three scores of 9.9 or higher last week against Georgia, Baskett gave the Utes their third score of that variety against Michigan with her second consecutive 9.9 of the night. Had the Utes not had a .1 point deduction for Postell and Ford performing out of order, the Utes would have come within kitty whiskers of topping their best front half of any meet thus far.

But if the Utes wanted to make this a memorable meet, they were going to have to finally put their beam problems behind them. The team’s answer to that challenge was nothing short of impressive.

Freshman Sarah Shire got the Utes cooking with a career-high 9.9 out of the second spot in the lineup, which is almost unheard of for a routine performed that early in a team’s rotation. Baskett then put together a beautiful routine of her own, but was docked down to a 9.775 because she missed a connecter on her lead tumbling passes. Nina Kim nearly became the Utes’ first beam victim on her difficult round-off layout mount, but she saved herself from a fall and finished her routine impressively. Ford cut through her routine like a warm knife through butter and posted a meet-high 9.925 — which guaranteed the Utes their first score of 49 or better on beam this year. Postell then applied icing on the cake with a 9.875, giving the Utes a season-high 49.250 on the Red Rocks’ toughest event.

Even more telling of the Utes’ success on beam than the final score was the fact that the team had two other gymnasts perform in exhibition, and out of the eight Utes that gave beam a go, not one gymnast touched the mat below before her dismount.

“It was a total attitude adjustment for the whole team,” Shire said. “We were finally able to put it together tonight. We’ve always been able to do the skills, but we finally got the mental part of it right.”

Unfortunately, the wave of confidence the Utes were riding came to a silencing halt when the 9,313 fans in attendance held their breath as Ford went down after tweaking her ankle. The preliminary indications from Ford and Marsden are that the injury doesn’t appear at the moment to be season-ending, but that could all change when Ford goes in for X-rays today.

“The doc looked at it and he thinks that it was just bone-on-bone and it’s probably bruised. It wasn’t like it was swelling or anything,” Marsden said. “If Queenie’s (Ford’s) out for a week or two, that’s going to hurt us. I think after we get the results we’ll have a much better feeling.”

Not that it mattered much at that point, but Ford’s injury prevented her from her third All-Around victory of the season. Instead, Ashley Postell ripped across the floor for her fifth 9.9 in six chances on that event en route to her second All-Around victory.

Another high point on floor came from Stephanie Neff. The freshman from Mesa, Ariz., got the chance to compete in a starting lineup for the first time this season after battling through a pulverizing string of injuries that have tested her patience.

“It was like injury after injury?I was like, ‘Wow, how much more am I gonna take?'” Neff said. “To finally be out there, I can’t describe how it feels — I’m so excited.”

The Utes will head on the road this week for a Sunday matinee with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. While Ford’s status for Nebraska is uncertain, preliminary guesses from Marsden were that even if Ford’s injury is not serious, she will likely get a rest from competing vault and floor, which are the two events that would be hardest on her particular injury.

Lennie Mahler

Kristina Baskett does a handstand turn on the bars and earns a match-high 9.90. Utah beat Michigan in the Huntsman Center on Saturday with a score of 196.225 to 193.800.