Patchwork Utes earn win

Lineup shuffle: Beset by injuries, Utah still gets good performances to defeat the Gophers


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MINNEAPOLIS - Not the national championships and not high-pressure meets against rivals UCLA or Brigham Young.

Where have many of the University of Utah's gymnastics team's worst performances come? In the unlikely place of Minneapolis, a city once rated as the nation's safest major metropolitan area, but one that has been as dangerous as thin ice on a deep lake for the Utes.

But perhaps one should expect loony performances in an arena that plays the call of the loon, which is Minnesota's state bird, over

the loudspeakers before each rotation.

This time Utah put together one of its better meets Saturday, downing Minnesota 195.275-194.45, weird atmosphere and all.

The last four times Utah has visited, the Utes have received some of their lowest scores of the season, with falls coming one after another.

Saturday's score is the lowest for the Utes so far, but it was a result of how tightly the meet was scored in general, not because of several big breaks by the Utes.

"Some of our girls had their best routines of the year, so it wasn't necessarily a reflection of the job they did," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "We did a really nice job. I was very pleased."

Particularly since Marsden had to patch together a lineup as injuries piled up this week.

Utah went into the meet without Gabi Onodi and Natalie Nicoloff, who sat out with ankle and arm injuries, respectively, then sophomore all-around competitor Nicolle Ford crashed during vault warmups and competed only on the uneven bars.

The injuries and lineup changes would have been enough to give the Utes reason for another lackluster performance in Minnesota, but at this point in the season, the Utes don't hold the nation's top ranking for nothing.

Others picked up in spots, with Kristen Riffanacht scoring a season best 9.775 on the vault, Katie Kivisto getting a season high 9.7 on the floor and Rachel Tidd scoring a season high 9.825 on the beam. Tidd also got a 9.775 on the floor, an event she was going to sit out to let her back rest until Ford was scratched.

"We're not at No. 1 because we're a fluke, we work hard," senior Annabeth Eberle said. "Greg says it's a good thing he has such a hard time making the lineup every week because we're so deep. This is definitely a different team than what I've been on."

Utah covered well for the absences until it got to balance beam, an event the three who sat out all normally compete. Riffanacht led off with a 9.775, the third straight meet she has gotten that score, but then the troubles started with Kivisto and Gritt Hofmann both falling.

Tidd got Utah back on track with a 9.825, then Eberle nearly came off the beam on her mount, but held on and scored 9.75.

Ashley Postell, who competes on the balance beam like she doesn't know it's only four inches wide, finished the rotation with a 9.8.

"Whenever people fall ahead of me I feel bad because of the team," Postell said. "But I got through it. The meet was a lot better than I thought it was going to be."

More than the score, Marsden was happy to note there was little dropoff from his usual starters to the ones that filled in, with the exception of the beam.

"It's something we haven't had in past years," he said. "The ones we went with tonight would have kept us competitive with anybody."