Gymnastics: Bijak not worried about being overlooked

Utes believe she often is judged harsher than others.
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Utah junior Daria Bijak isn't being mentioned much as a contender for the NCAA all-around title when the NCAA Gymnastics Championships begin in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday despite putting up some big scores in the category recently.

Getting overlooked, though, doesn't bother Bijak. She is accustomed to it by now.

Bijak, who has earned scores of 39.525 or higher in Utah's recent meets, hasn't exactly been a favorite of the judges this year as the Utes believe she often is judged harsher than other competitors, even on her own team.

The judging differences are subtle, with perhaps more deductions taken for steps on landings or not enough credit given for leap amplitude, but it has been enough to frustrate Utah's coaches and Bijak alike.

"At this point, I just try to do everything I can control and not care about the scores," Bijak said.

They thought after Bijak earned second-team All-America honors in the all-around and on the floor last year her reputation would help her, but it didn't always.

"It is a subjective sport and you have to pay your dues and we were hoping to see a difference this year," Utah assistant Megan Marsden said. "We did see it in some places, but not as much as I had hoped."

The Utes aren't sure the reasons for the tighter judging, but feel partially it's because the German's routines are unique. Bijak uses an unusual tumbling pass of punch double front, punch front on the floor and is believed to be the only gymnast performing a handspring front layout vault.

Where those routines might have caught judges by surprise in the past, the Utes hope the unusualness works in Bijak's favor on Thursday when judges will see one routine after another with mind-numbing similarity. Maybe Bijak can stand out, and in a good way, Marsden said.

"They do have to try and separate at this level because the teams that are there are going to be pretty darn good," Marsden said.

If Bijak hits her routines, she has the talent to compete for all-around honors as her 39.55 all-around score at the West regionals showed. There, she finished second behind teammate Kristina Baskett, who is ranked second in the all-around.

Scores such as those would put Bijak right in the mix for an all-around title, which is awarded Thursday, not that she said she is thinking about the award. Her priority is helping the Utes qualify for Friday's Super Six.

Besides, she has learned high scores don't always come with big routines, she said. Rather than taking the easy way out and doing the same skills everyone else is, Bijak would rather stay unique.

"If I do everything possible that I can control and I don't get the score I think I deserve, it's fine," she said. "I just try to do everything I can control and not care about the scores. At this point, you either see what I am doing or not and if not I can't help it. I've been doing what I've been doing for three years now."

NCAA Championships

Lincoln, Neb.

Thursday's Preliminaries

Session I » Stanford, Penn State, Oklahoma, LSU, Georgia, Florida; noon

Session II » Utah, UCLA, Illinois, Oregon State, Arkansas, Alabama; 6 p.m

Bijak's 2009 top 5 all-around scores

Score Date Competition

39.55 April 4 West regional

39.525 March 20 at BYU

39.375 Feb. 20 vs. Michigan

39.225 Feb. 13 at Nebraska

39.2 March 6 vs. Arizona Sttate