Utes can’t afford to pull any punches (4/22)

By By Jon Gilbert and By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

Click here for our complete coverage of the 2008 NCAA National Championshps

Despite their brilliance, Utah’s Ashley Postell and Kristina Baskett cannot win the women’s collegiate gymnastics national championship as a duo. Postell might be the two-time all-around national runner-up and currently ranked first in the country, and Baskett might have the 2006 uneven bars title to her name as well as a top-10 national all-around score, but Utah’s most important gymnasts might not get all the attention.

“It’s going to be as much about how your people early in your lineup do for you as the people at the end,” head coach Greg Marsden said of nationals, which will be held April 24 through April 26 in Athens, Ga. “You’ve got to count five scores.”

Because gymnastics becomes more of a team sport when gymnasts compete in college, names such as Daria Bijak, Nina Kim and Kyndal Robarts have as much meaning to Utah as Baskett and Postell.

A widely used strategy in gymnastics is to put the strongest performers at the end of the lineup so they can benefit from the performance of those in front of them, maximizing scores.

“You want to start off with a good score that has an opportunity to build throughout your lineup,” Marsden said.

Scores build when a judge rates the first performance high. If the next performance is better in the judge’s eyes, then it is logical to score it higher than the first. This process repeats itself until the final gymnasts in the lineup have the greatest possibility to land a huge score.

At nationals, nailing performances isn’t the only way to grow scores. With so many top-level gymnasts competing in one place and judges watching routine after routine, finding a way to separate oneself is crucial to a gymnast. The Utes hope this will work to their advantage because they employ a vast array of skills.

“I know that I will never be as clean as Kristina and Ashley, but my gymnastics is also different,” Bijak said.

Bijak’s vault maneuver sets her apart from her teammates and many of the country’s gymnasts. Although Utah’s vault lineup — as well as many schools’ in the country — is saturated with Yurchenko fulls, Bijak performs a front handspring on, front layout off. That type of variance can stand out to judges and earn a higher score.

Depth will also be critical for Utah if it not only wants to advance to the Super Six on Friday, but have a reasonable chance to compete for the title.

“You never know if you will be able to use the same lineup on Friday as you used on Thursday,” Marsden said.

The 12 teams are divided into two groups on Thursday, with the top three finishers of each group advancing to the Super Six. For each team that advances, this amounts to two full meets in less than 24 hours. The back-to-back competition can easily leave teams banged up and sore going into the second meet. Having capable gymnasts available is very helpful.

Marsden is excited about the depth of his team and feels confident that he can field a strong lineup for each day of competition. He said everyone is still competing for spots, so he has plenty of talent to choose from.

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