Red Rocks vault to nationals

By By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

The U gymnastics team can let its breath out.

The Red Rocks secured their spot at nationals by winning the North Central Regional Championship on Saturday in Minneapolis, Minn.

Utah’s score of 196.950 was more than enough to defeat the field and nab one of the two available tickets to nationals in Athens, Ga., April 24 to April 26. Arkansas also qualified with its 196.125. Host Minnesota came in third followed by Arizona, Southern Utah and Iowa, respectively.

Ashley Postell led the way for the Red Rocks by winning the all-around competition with a 39.60. Junior Kristina Baskett came in second by scoring 39.40.

Daria Bijak gave the Utes a lift with her all-around performance. Her 39.350 landed her in fourth place.

After watching the first rotation during its first bye, Utah started out slow on bars.

“We certainly have to be sharper on bars,” head coach Greg Marsden said.

Utah followed up its 49.10 bar performance with a 49.075 on the beam.

Nina Kim, who rolled her ankle April 4 in training, performed on the balance beam even though Marsden was doubtful she would compete at all at the beginning of the week. As the week wore on, Marsden became more accustomed to the idea of Kim competing as she trained more each day.

“I left it up to Nina,” Marsden said. “(Her ankle) was feeling good enough that she felt she could get through a beam routine.”

Although Kim’s 9.75 wasn’t good enough to be included in Utah’s final score, her performance proved that her ankle won’t hold her back from contributing at nationals. She struggled late in her routine, but Marsden said it had nothing to do with her ankle and everything to do with her losing her concentration.

The team began to heat up after its second bye. The Utes rebounded during the floor competition with a 39.375. The event was highlighted by Postell’s event-winning 9.95. Utah finished strong on the vault with a 49.40 and wrapped up its record 27th consecutive national championship berth. Utah has never missed nationals.

“We probably did the best vaulting set we could do,” Marsden said.

The coach was pleased to leave the Sports Pavilion with a trip to plan to Athens but felt a repeat of Saturday’s performance won’t be enough to take home a championship in a week and a half. Despite handily defeating its regional competition, nationals promises to be a whole different competition.

Joining Utah and Arkansas in Georgia are 10 other teams that qualified in their respective regional competitions on Saturday. Alabama and Oklahoma advanced out of the South Central regional. Louisiana State and Stanford both scored above 197.50 to claim the two qualifying spots in the Central Region. Florida did the same to win the Southeast Region while UCLA earned second place. Georgia and Denver both claimed stakes at nationals with their performances in the Northeast Region.

Oregon State finished first in the West regional while Michigan advanced as the second place team to round out the field of 12.

Georgia-which has been without defending back-to-back all-around national champion Courtney Kupets since March 1 and likely the rest of the season due to a torn Achilles-had the most impressive qualifying score. The Gym Dogs trounced the competition and posted a 197.775. Georgia is the three-time defending national champion and is aiming for a fourth.

Of course, the competition at nationals will be rigid, to say the least. Utah is 5-1 against the 12-team nationals field. The Utes have not faced Denver, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma or Stanford. Their only loss came at Florida.

Marsden didn’t express concern after the meet about nationals. He hopes to get in a good week of training but keep his team healthy and rested at the same time.

“That what it’s about: having a great meet during nationals,” Marsden said.

The draw for preliminary sessions at nationals will be held later this week.

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Maegan Burr

After a first-place finish in the North Central Regional, the Red Rocks can now look forward to the NCAA Championships in Athens, Georgia.