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Gymnastics seemed to come so easy for Nansy Damianova last year. The Canadian performed near-flawless routines that not only caught the attention of fans, but captivated judges enough to make her one of Utah's highest scoring gymnasts.
With clean lines and graceful moves, Damianova won the NCAA regional floor title and was the co-champion on the vault and a regular contributor on the uneven bars.
With all her success, the Utes expected Damianova to be a contributor in the all-around this season. Unfortunately, the season hasn't gone as hoped for the sophomore who is competing regularly only on the floor.
So what has happened with the once-budding star?
Her disappearance from the lineup not only is a testament to the strength of the team this season but also evidence of the amount of work the Utes put in in the gym this summer.
Damianova elected to go home rather than stay for the voluntary workouts, which put her behind the team in preparation. Once she arrived, Damianova and the coaches made some changes to her routines, which led to more of an adjustment than she expected.
"Last year, I'd done that routine for years," she said. "This year, I don't feel as stable and I'm not doing my skills as well."
Even with just two meets remaining in the regular season, Utah coach Greg Marsden hopes he can get Damianova in the uneven bars lineup. She competed once, falling off the bars against BYU and scoring 9.275, but she is capable of scoring much higher. She is showing better form in practice and in exhibition. Her vault is finally coming around as well, leaving Marsden with some possible lineup decisions to make in the coming weeks.
Marsden doesn't want to make too many changes at this point, preferring the team get accustomed to an order as they head into the post-season. However, Damianova's work has caught his attention.
"After we changed her bar routine, it made it more competitive, but she struggled with consistency," Marsden said. "It has taken her a while to get back to form, and every week she has been doing a better job. Her vaulting has a lot of amplitude and has been coming around in the last three weeks, but now it might be tough for her to get into the lineup. We have to make those decisions. It might be tough to take somebody out of the vault lineup at this point."
Just knowing her coach thinks she is performing better makes Damianova offer a smile in relief. The 2008 Olympian isn't accustomed to struggling in gymnastics.
"It has been hard getting into the lineup and frustrating," she said. "I just keep training harder. I thought my new routines would be easier, but the timing is different so that makes it harder."
A quiet personality, Damianova was one of the few gymnasts who didn't thrive in the preseason during the Utes' intrasquad battles. The talent of Utah's freshmen pushed all the gymnasts to perform better, but Damianova didn't respond quite as well to the pressure from her teammates.
Only now is she starting to show the confidence she had a year ago, Marsden said.
"She was constantly looking over her shoulder," he said. "She didn't adjust as well as the others did to having such a deep team around her. But I've seen some encouraging things that make me believe she is coming around."
A closer look
• Sophomore, 5-foot-1
From • Montreal
Highlights • 2008 Olympian was the 2011 NCAA regional co-champion on vault (9.9) and floor champion (9.9) ... Has hit 48 of 50 routines in her career ... Has seven career victories ... Scored season high of 9.85 against BYU.
No. 6 Nebraska at No. 7 Utah