Red Rocks look for fresh start

By Bryan Chouinard, Staff Writer

It’s that time of the year again, when Utah students and fans alike get excited for yet another run at a national championship by Utah gymnastics head coach Greg Marsden and the Red Rocks.

Expectations are always high this time of year and the 2009 season is no different. In addition to losing three seniors at the end of last season, including the winningest gymnast in Utah history in Ashley Postell, Utah received some grim news earlier this fall when junior Stephanie Neff was placed on a medical hardship scholarship. Neff will continue her education at the U but is permanently ineligible to train or compete with the team. Neff was placed on the scholarship because of continuing back problems that stem from before her time at the U.

“Unfortunately, she came to us with some significant back problems that never healed sufficiently for her to consistently train and compete,” Marsden said. “Our doctors have advised us that this is a decision that is in the best interests of her long-term health.”

Neff competed in the past six regular season meets last season, earning a starting spot with her floor routine.

“This is a big loss for our team and very difficult for Stephanie,” Marsden said. “Her unique style of gymnastics made her a crowd favorite, and she was a valuable contributor for the past two years.”

Utah will look to incoming freshmen Cortni Beers and Stephanie McAllister to step up and help fill the voids left by departed Red Rocks.

“I’m excited about (Beers and McAllister) and expect them to step in and help us immediately,” Marsden said.

Sophomores Gael Mackie and Jacquelyn Johnson will also be expected to have more of an impact now in their second year at the U. But all eyes will be on seniors Kristina Baskett and Nina Kim to lead Utah through its treacherous schedule, which includes a matchup against defending national champion Georgia, as well as dates with perennial powerhouses Florida and UCLA.

“Week in and week out, having to be at your best really prepares you for the end of the season,” Marsden said. “I expect (Baskett and Kim) to lead us and they seem prepared to do that.”

The competition floor isn’t the only place Utah’s gymnasts are gaining recognition. This past September, Utah was ranked ninth in the country in the sports academic standings with a cumulative GPA of 3.519.

Seven members of the 2008 squad earned recognition from the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women, headlined by Baskett’s team-leading 4.0. Six others followed Baskett, all with GPAs above 3.5, good enough to be named to the Athletic Director’s list.

As the Red Rocks continue to excel in and out of the classroom, anticipation will continue to build for the 2009 campaign, which will get underway Jan. 9 when Utah welcomes UCLA to the Huntsman Center. Can’t wait until January? The Red Rocks are holding their annual Red Rocks Preview on Dec. 12 in the Huntsman Center.

[email protected]

Lennie Mahler

Kristina Baskett will be looked upon to lead the Utes during her senior year. The Red Rocks have a challenging schedule facing UCLA, Florda and defending champions Georgia.