Red Rocks working on routines, staying healthy

By By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

As fall turns to winter, the U gymnastics team turns from fundamentals to routines.

Although the start of the season is more than a month away, the team’s floor routines are beginning to take shape.

“I feel better this year at this point than I did last year,” Utah head coach Greg Marsden said.

Most of the gymnasts are training for all of their events. Overall, the team is healthy and moving toward competition form. Sophomore Stephanie Neff is almost full strength after a shoulder injury limited her training. Daria Bijak has worked her way back from a rolled ankle suffered more than two months ago.

Not all of the Red Rocks have been so fortunate, though. Freshman Jacquelyn Johnson rolled her ankle about the same time as Bijak and was recovering nicely until the injury recurred Nov. 21.

“Day by day, I add more difficult skills,” Johnson said. “(The injury) is not as serious as it was last time.”

She is only training on the uneven bars without a dismount to keep her ankle safe.

Johnson, like all the gymnasts, receives daily therapy to keep her body in peak condition. Nevertheless, Marsden doesn’t think Johnson will contribute soon.

“It will be hard for her to be ready,” he said.

With the weather chilling, sickness has been more of a concern to Red Rocks than injury. Nina Kim sat out some practice time last week with a cold, and this week Beth Rizzo caught the bug, missing Monday and Tuesday. A couple of other gymnasts have battled illness as well.

Marsden doesn’t ask his athletes to train through illness. He said he would rather they get better and come back full strength when they are ready.

When they are feeling well, the Red Rocks practice four days a week and use a fifth day for conditioning. Many Fridays are reserved for what Johnson referred to as “mock meets.”

The team is divided into two groups. The groups take turns performing different events in an effort to simulate varying elements of actual meets.

It will be a little while longer before routines are finalized and ready for competition. But right now, the athletes are focused on improving every day.

“Our consistency has improved a lot,” Johnson said.

There are plenty of kinks to be worked out, but Marsden is comfortable with his team’s development.

“A team never feels completely ready for that first meet,” Marsden said. “So, opening with Georgia is a two-edged sword. It’s great motivation. If you open with a bunch of teams you feel you should beat pretty easily, you tend to take things for granted.”

Marsden and the Red Rocks are excited about competing with the two-time defending national champion Gym Dogs — who defeated the Utes the last time they came to Salt Lake City — in the Huntsman Center on Jan. 11.

There is much to accomplish between now and then. The athletes have more than a week left of training before they take a 10-day vacation between semesters. Then it’s back to the mats for one final training push before the Red Rocks’ preview Jan. 4.

The intra-squad meet will be the first real taste of competition for the team and will serve as a chance to perform in front of fans.

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Lennie Mahler

Kristina Baskett, last season’s All-American on the uneven bars, prepares for the upcoming season. Baskett won at least one individual title in 12 of 13 regular season meets last year.