LOGAN - Utah's gymnastics team knew it had to be at its best to beat UCLA a week ago, and it was. The circumstances were much different Friday, and so was the performance. Luckily for the top-ranked Utes, the outcome was the same.
Utah downed Utah State 195.675-193.85 Friday, but as far as performances go, Utah's showing was as rugged as the mountains that loom over Logan.
"It definitely wasn't as good as UCLA," said Utah senior Annabeth Eberle. "But we were coming down after that meet with UCLA, and it was a hard week since we started classes."
To be fair, Utah was without several of its normal competitors.
Freshman Ashley Postell only competed on the vault because she was ill, scoring a 9.9, while Rachel Tidd missed the meet with ongoing back problems, and Natalie Nicoloff, a beam specialist who led off the team with a 9.75 against UCLA, sat out with a cold, too.
"I can explain it, but I don't have to excuse it," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "This meet looked like a first meet of the season. But I saw this coming all week, we didn't practice well, and we looked like we trained. I didn't see the same thing in their eyes I saw last week, no question."
On its side, Utah State's biggest loss came even before the meet started. Earlier in the day, sophomore Jessica Parenti, who missed the 2004 season with a wrist injury but was supposed to be one of the Aggies' best this year, was diagnosed with mononucleosis. She is out for at least six weeks.
If the Aggies had had Parenti, Utah State may have pulled off the biggest upset in school history and earned its first win over the Utes since 1979. As it was, Utah State's final score was its highest in a season opener in at least six years.
"I'm extremely pleased," Utah State coach Ray Corn said. "Every night, we go out our goal is to hit 24 of 24 routines, and we hit 22 tonight. We had some costly errors on floor, but overall, I saw a great deal of improvement."
Utah had a fall on every event except balance beam and had to count a 9.45 from Gabriella Onodi on floor, leaving the Utes with a mere 0.875 advantage going into the last rotation, where the Aggies were on the floor and the Utes were on the beam.
Would the Utes go from being known as the nation's top-ranked team to the nation's biggest chokers? Luckily for them, they didn't know they were in a battle.
"I'm glad we didn't know how close it was," said sophomore Nicolle Ford. "We had no idea."
Utah, though, came through like a No. 1 team should, with Kristen Riffanacht leading off with a 9.775, then Gritt Hofmann, who fell last week, earned a 9.9 and Ford followed with a 9.95, helping the Utes to a 49.2 on the beam, while Utah State finished with a 48.25 on the floor.
"That was obviously our shining moment," Marsden said. "We finally looked like we showed up for a meet."
Ford was the all-around winner with a 39.55, scoring 9.875 on the vault and bars, a 9.85 on the floor and the 9.95 on the beam, the night's highest score on any event and her career best.
"I'm much happier than I was last week," Ford said. "Last week, I was more focused on what I wanted to do than what I really should be doing."
Notes: Utah State doesn't get any rest, since it was scheduled to leave at 5 a.m. this morning to compete against Central Michigan at noon on Sunday. The Aggies are competing twice this week because Friday was the only time Utah had available. . . . The injuries and illness led to several lineup changes for the Utes. Jessica Duke scored a 9.725 in her first uneven bars routine of the year. Riffanacht scored a 9.65 on the bars after hitting her feet on the top bar in her first release move and scored a 9.7 for her first vault. Katie Kivisto made her first appearances on the beam and floor, scoring 9.775 and 9.65, respectively. . . . Utah State's Alex Martin's music went down during her floor routine, leaving her to perform the last pass in silence. It didn't distract her, as she nailed it and scored a 9.75. . . . Utah State inquired about Ashley Barr's floor score, which as a 9.55. Normally inquiries either result in a score remaining the same or increasing, but unfortunately for Barr, her score dropped to a 9.4 because the judges felt she didn't end her routine with an acrobatic dismount when she ran out of her last pass. "Two judges agreed with me," Corn said. "But they were the wrong two." . . . Friday's attendance was 4,123 fans.
Utah State 193.850
1, Nicolle Ford, Utah, 39.550. 2, Megan Tschida, USU, 39.100. 3, Kristen Riffanacht, Utah, 38.875. 4, Annabeth Eberle, Utah, 38.575
Utah 49.075, USU 48.775
1, Ashley Postell, Utah, 9.900. 2, Nicolle Ford, Utah, 9.875. 3, Annabeth Eberle, Utah, 9.850. 3, Jackie Fogli, USU, 9.850. 5, Rachael Mandy, USU, 9.750. 5, Rachel Ropelato, USU, 9.750. 5, Megan Tschida, USU, 9.750. 5, Gabriella Onodi, Utah, 9.750.
Utah 48.925, USU 48.275
1, Nicolle Ford, Utah, 9.875. 2, Annabeth Eberle, Utah, 9.850. 3, Katie Kivisto, Utah, 9.825. 4, Alex Martin, USU, 9.725. 4, Megan Tschida, USU, 9.725. 4, Jessica Duke, Utah, 9.725.
Utah, 49.200 USU 48.550
1, Nicolle Ford, Utah, 9.950. 2, Gritt Hofmann, Utah, 9.900. 3, Gabriella Onodi, Utah, 9.850. 4, Liesel Kohler, USU, 9.775. 4, Megan Tschida, USU, 9,775. 4, Kristen Riffanacht, Utah, 9.775.
Utah 48.475, USU 48.250
1, Megan Tschida, USU, 9.850. 2, Nicolle Ford, Utah, 9.850. 3, Gritt Hofmann, Utah, 9.775. 4, Alex Martin, USU, 9.750. 4, Kristen Riffanacht, Utah, 9.750.