The only freshman to earn a spot in Utah's lineup this season, Hughes has hit 16 of 16 routines with a highs of 9.85 on the bars and a 9.875 on the balance beam.
Hughes, a slight, 5-foot-3 freshman from Champlin, Minn., doesn't see her performances as anything more than what was expected of her. To her, she has been waiting for the opportunity to show off her skills in a Utah leotard for more than five years. Why would she do anything less than all she could to help the Utes?
Hughes said she fell in love with Utah when she visited the campus as an eighth-grader. Her older sister, Brittane, came to Utah as a ballet major. While she might have the frame of a dancer's body, Hughes was captivated by gymnastics instead and found herself watching Utah's team practice as often as she could while in Salt Lake City.
"I made it my goal to work hard enough that I could come here," Hughes said. "The gym was nice, but it was the team atmosphere I liked. They were always welcoming to me, so it was the perfect fit."
Hughes didn't see a Utah gymnastics meet in person until she was in high school, but those practices were good enough to convince her Utah was the place for her. Other schools including Minnesota and Nebraska came after her, but she remained true to the Utes.
No one is more thankful for her steadfast decision than the Utes, who don't have much depth on the balance beam or bars, the events in which Hughes is thriving. Stress fractures in her back are preventing her from competing on the other events, but she is needed mainly on the bars and beam anyway.
"She has been everything we had hoped she'd be," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "Her back has been disappointing for her, but it's just not worth the risk of her doing something and losing her on the other two events. We couldn't ask for more than she has done this year. She has been a rock for us."
As good as she has been, Hughes can still improve, Marsden said.
"I can see her growing into a consistent 9.9 role," Marsden said. "The way she has handled her gymnastics, she has really risen to the occasion, especially in the big meets."
Hughes said she doesn't feel any pressure to deliver for the Utes, even though she knows how crucial her scores are. Instead, she is simply focused on living out a dream, one that has been several years in the making.
"I love the team atmosphere," she said. "In club, everything was individual. Being here and competing for a team has brought it all together for me."
Breanna Hughes file
• 5-foot-3, freshman
From • Champlin, Minn.
Of note • Has hit 16 of 16 routines this season. ... Doesn't compete on the vault or floor due to a back injury. ... Placed fourth at the 2010 and 2011 Junior Olympic nationals and third in 2012. ... National Honor Society member in 2009 and 2010. ... Father, Mike Hunger, was an assistant at Utah State.
No. 7 Utah at No. 8 Georgia
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