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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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So close, but how far away?

By Tony Pizza

It might be a slight exaggeration to compare the Red Rocks’ 2007 journey to the one Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee made just to drop a ring in the red-hot magma of Mount Doom. But the path the U gymnastics team has taken this season hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park, either.

Injuries, inexperience and a lack of cohesion have littered the Utes’ season with more obstacles than those a purebred cocker spaniel has to maneuver at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Still, as the Utes work through their 10th week of the regular season, the team — as a whole — looks none the worse for wear.

Sure, the Red Rocks are in the midst of their worst four-week stretch since losing three of five meets in the middle of the 2003 season. You wouldn’t know that by looking at the faces of the gymnasts, though.

The Utes’ injuries have basically followed suit with the snow pack around the Salt Lake Valley, and the result is the healthiest gymnastics team head coach Greg Marsden has had this season.

Freshman Annie DiLuzio and senior captain Nicolle Ford are the remaining gymnasts still nursing serious injuries, but both have made significant progress since the beginning of last week.

“(My ankle) feels a lot better than it did in the beginning,” DiLuzio said. “I can do a lot of stuff without it hurting. It’s still a little stiff, but once I get warmed up it doesn’t hurt.”

To help Ford return to the U’s All-Around starting lineup more rapidly, she has begun working on a floor routine that excludes all backward tumbling. This tactic allowed Ford to practice a full floor routine Monday, with the hopes of being able to put it on display for score as early as the Utes’ meet against Oregon State this weekend.

“I think I’m the last one?with no more serious things. I haven’t seen too many people in the training room, so that’s a good sign,” Ford said. “I switched my tumbling?I’m now doing mostly all front tumbling, which has helped.”

Combined with the Utes’ evaporating injury problems is a renewed sense of confidence, despite the fact they have dropped three of their last four meets — all of which have been against Top 10 teams.

According to Marsden, the Utes hit a low point against Georgia, where the Utes self-destructed on numerous fronts. The following week, the Utes showed progress in a win at home against Michigan. The Red Rocks then followed that effort up with a strong showing on the road against Nebraska, where the Utes didn’t have to count a fall for the first time this season.

Though the Utes left Lincoln, Neb., with a loss, Utah also left with a cohesiveness that had eluded the team all year. Last week the Utes put up a valiant effort against then No. 1 Florida, only to let their floor performance — and the meet in general — slip out from underneath them in the end.

Though the disappointment at the end of the Florida meet was palpable, nobody on the U gymnastic team will deny that it is close to putting its best effort of the season together.

“Things are even better in the gym this week than they were last week,” Ford said. “We really need to come up with a four-for-four (on our events). We’re so close.”

It’s not that competing for a national championship is out of the question either. At this point, nothing could be further from the truth.

Just two years ago, Georgia dropped three straight meets in the middle of the 2005 season. The Gym Dogs then turned their season around in a meet against Utah, and they never looked back. Georgia went on to win its three remaining regular-season meets before taking home a first-place finish in the SEC Championships. Georgia then finished second in its Regional and took home an NCAA Championship two weeks later.

That scenario is not out of the question for Utah in 2007, but for the Red Rocks to duplicate Georgia’s late season dramatics of 2005, the Utes have precious little time to get that type of momentum rolling.

The Red Rocks square off against No. 10 Oregon State in the arena where the Utes were runners-up in last year’s national championships. The Utes then have one last home meet against No. 23 Arizona State before going on the road for one last regular season meet against No. 22 BYU.

That basically gives Utah one calendar month to salvage its season before the NCAA Regional kicks off on April 14. With everything starting to align for the Red Rocks, the team still seems poised to make some noise on its home floor come championships time at the end of April. The next three weeks will go a long way toward proving whether the Utes are worthy of being included in college gymnastics’ Super Six.

Lennie Mahler

Nicolle Ford performs on the beam last Friday during the Red Rocks’ loss to No. 1 Florida. Friday the Red Rocks travel to compete against No. 10 Oregon State in the Salbasgeon Suites Invitational.

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