College Gymnastics: Utes deliver season's third-best score, beat Cougs

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Two-time defending champ UCLA comes to town and the University of Utah's gymnastics team responds with a polished meet normally not seen until the midseason. Then the Utes get a challenge from third-ranked Michigan, and again they perform some of their best routines under the pressure.

So then comes No. 13 BYU, boasting its best team in years, and a crowd of 14,100 turns out to see what happens. They should have known by now, because a pattern is forming. Put the Utes in a big-meet situation, and they deliver.

Top-ranked Utah dispatched the Cougars 196.65-194.35 Friday in the Huntsman Center, earning its third-highest mark of the season.

"We're a very competitive team," senior Annabeth Eberle said. "Everyone knows what we're capable of, and in good close meets, we're not going to let anyone take it away from us."

Technically, Friday's meet wasn't that close, not after Utah posted a 49.125 on the vault and kept rolling from there. But any time the Cougars and Utes compete in any sport, there is always a little extra edge in the arena.

BYU was coming off its best meet, posting a 196.125 a week ago. Given the numerous little injuries the Utes have dealt with, Friday's meet could have been the most competitive between the instate rivals in years.

The Utes would have none of that, starting with a 9.775 vault from Jessica Duke, the highest mark Utah has had from its leadoff gymnast on that event, and finishing with its third-highest floor rotation, a 49.25.

With the Utes hitting, BYU needed a mistake-free showing to have a chance, but it didn't happen as the Cougars suffered major and minor deductions.

Neither team had to count a fall, but BYU counted several scores in the 9.5 to 9.6 range ,while Utah's low was a 9.7 on the balance beam from freshman sensation Ashley Postell, of all people.

BYU coach Brad Cattermole blamed part of BYU's performance on the bad timing of the NCAA, which made his team take drug tests at 5 a.m. on Thursday.

"That makes me mad," he said. "We looked tired, our floor is usually much better, but we are moving in the right direction . . . We got what we deserved in the scores, we just made too many goofy, little mistakes."

Postell, Utah's anchor on the beam, tried to add a full twisting back handspring into her already packed routine, but didn't have enough time to warm it up and nearly fell.

"I guess that wasn't a good idea, I don't think I'll be doing that again," she said, at least able to laugh at herself, given her usual steady performances on the beam and Utah's overall strong showing.

Now midway through the regular season, Utah will continue to add difficulty and put more emphasis on sticking its landings, one of the few areas the Utes had trouble with Friday.

"I went in and talked to the team about all the things we didn't get done right after the meet," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "It was really unfair to them because they did a great job. I can just see things we still need to do. We're in a very good place right now. The team is fully aware of what is ahead and we still have a lot of work to be done, but we are in a good place right now."

Utah's most difficult stretch is ahead, with a Sunday afternoon meet at No. 8 Nebraska next week, followed by a meet at No. 7 Georgia, which sells out its arena with a capacity of 9,951 fans. Sixth-ranked Florida comes to town after that.

If the Utes make it through that run unscathed, Utah could be the overwhelming favorite for the national title, a position it hasn't been in since winning in 1992.

"We've done a good job, but we still have some high expectations," Eberle said.

No. 1 Utah 196.65

No. 13 BYU 194.35

BYU's Sierra Jacobs somersaults during her floor routine in the 13th-ranked Cougars' loss to top-ranked Utah on Friday night at the Huntsman Center.

IN SHORT - The Utes scored their third-highest mark of the season to defeat BYU in front of 14,100 fans, the eighth-largest crowd in the program's history.

KEY STAT - Utah set its second-best mark on the uneven bars with a 49.375, led off by Katie Kivisto's 9.9.

KEY MOMENT - Rachel Tidd, bothered earlier in the week by her back, scored a 9.825 on floor to win the all-around with a 39.375, her first all-around title of the year.