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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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Adding fuel to the fire

By Tony Pizza

It’s not often that the U gymnastics team can play the underdog card, but Saturday at the West Regional, that rare instance came up.

The Red Rocks didn’t view themselves as an underdog, either. By all accounts, the Utes should have been the favorite. They went into Berkeley, Calif., just fractions of a point behind Nebraska in terms of rankings, but it seems at least one team in the West Regional didn’t give Utah the respect it warranted.

“People were doubting us. I know Missouri thought they had a chance to beat us,” Ashley Postell said.

“(Missouri) said Nebraska was not beatable and that we were,” Nicolle Ford said.

It’s not that the Red Rocks needed another source of motivation, either. The Utes entered the Regional hell-bent on proving they had the talent to put up a big score. The Red Rocks also had the pressure of making the NCAA National Championships that they were hosting to drive them.

The impression the Utes got from the Missouri Tigers seemed to work like a boy scout, a can of Kerosene and a campfire. And the Utes burned through the four events en route to the highest score (197.325) the team has had in more than a year. And the Utes weren’t the only ones pleased to see the team post a score like that.

“I feel like in a lot of ways (Utah’s win) was the best thing for the National Championships,” said Nebraska head coach Dan Kendig. “They wound up tying for highest score in any Regional and that will definitely sell some tickets out there. And there is nothing better than going to a National Championship in a packed house.”

The Red Rocks’ confidence also got a shot in the arm after putting together a complete effort for the first time all season.

“We did what we knew we were capable of all along, but just didn’t get a chance to see,” Ford said. “That’s what we’ve been working for all year, and who cares that it came at Regionals.”

Now that the Utes are headed to Nationals, a huge burden has been lifted from their shoulders.

“There was a ton of pressure put on us,” Ford said. “That’s basically what we’ve been thinking about from the beginning of the year. We heard about it all year; it’s been tough.”

But that doesn’t mean all the historical pressure has vanished. For the Utes, 1999 still looms in the back of many of the U gymnasts’ minds.

“We can’t really think about ‘what if,’ we just have to know that we are capable of getting (to the Super Six),” Ford said. “That’s where we want to be, so that’s what we’re going to do. Every year (not making the Super Six) runs in the back of everybody’s mind.”

The reason for the apprehensiveness is that 1999 was the last time the Utes hosted the National Championship, and to say that things didn’t exactly go as planned would be putting it lightly.

That year, the Utes had to watch the Super Six in their own stands for the first time in school history. In fact, it was only the second time the Utes were not included in the Super Six in 26 years.

But as easy as it is to look at the negative side of history, the Utes can take solace in the fact that they rarely don’t find success at home.

In the eight times the National Champion has been decided in Salt Lake City, the Red Rocks have been crowned champions five times, and ’99 was the only year they finished outside the top two.

Seizing the moment

Much to her disappointment, Katie Kivisto hasn’t had the chance to help her team in competition as frequently as she might like. But she got the chance to contribute Saturday night, and she took full advantage of that chance.

With floor being the most troublesome event for the Utes to end the season, Kivisto knew how important her leadoff performance would be for the Red Rocks.

“I think it was very important to start out our last event in a positive way,” Kivisto said. “From there I just hoped and prayed that we would keep it going — and we did. It was amazing.”

Not only was Kivisto’s performance good enough for a 9.825, but it started a snowball effect that helped the Utes to finish just .025 points off their season-high on that event. It gave Kivisto a good feeling knowing she could contribute like that when it counted.

“It was really nice. It’s probably the happiest I’ve been in a long time,” Kivisto said. “I was really happy with the score. It was a huge thing for me and the team and I was happy we were able to build on it for once.”

The Utes will host the NCAA National Championships from April 26 to April 28. The Utes get their preliminary competition underway April 26 at 7 p.m.

Lennie Mahler

Katie Kivisto responds to Utah fans’ cheers after the Red Rocks’ victory at the regional competition in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday. The doubts other teams held about the Red Rocks’ performance in the regional were proven false as they went on to defeat all competition.

Lennie Mahler

Ashley Postell swings on the uneven bars Saturday in the NCAA West Regional Competition. Ashley Postell won the best all-around score with a career-high 39.675 points.

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