Freshman gymnast takes her leadoff role seriously

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Utah gymnast Katie Kivisto is like a kicker in football - no one really notices her until she messes up. Fortunately for Kivisto, that is not often.

Kivisto holds the leadoff spot on the uneven bars for the Utes.

Fans are still out getting their refreshments when leadoff gymnasts perform, because the "big guns," the ones who normally get the high scores, go last in the lineup - and of course no one wants to miss those.

But if that first gymnast has a bad routine, the whole context of the rotation, and sometimes the meet, changes.

"It's the most important spot," Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden said. "The first one up sets the tone. If she can get a good score, and the rest of the team hits, then the rest of the scores usually go up. The first one has to be somebody that is very dependable."

A freshman, Kivisto has held the leadoff spot in Utah's last five meets. Earlier in the season, Marsden went with Dominique D'Oliveira and Kristen Riffanacht, but Kivisto has taken charge lately.

"I like going first, because I'm warmed up and ready to go," said Kivisto, who often went last or next to last at the club level. "I don't have to sit around and get cold. I know I have to start off strong, because when people fall in front of you, it puts more pressure on you."

Interestingly, the uneven bars was the one event Kivisto didn't expect to compete in much at the college level because it was known as her most inconsistent event.

"Everyone who recruited me told me I wouldn't compete on bars," she said. "At the club level, I had a difficult time with my shapes and execution. I worked really hard to clean all that up."

The time in the gym is paying off, not just for Kivisto, but for the Utes. In Utah's eight meets, Kivisto has scored 9.825 or higher in four and hasn't scored lower than 9.725. Utah ranks second in the country on the event, averaging 49.153.

"I really gained confidence in Katie on the bars very early," Marsden said. "She is very solid."

Kivisto has seen limited action on the balance beam and the floor, with more inconsistent results. She scored a 9.7 on the beam against Utah State, then earned only a 9.3 against Minnesota. On the floor, she has three scores of 9.65 or better. She fell at Nebraska, scoring a 9.175.

Kivisto's problems on those events is more of a product of what gymnastics she is doing, rather than how she is doing them. Like many elite gymnasts, Kivisto wanted to put as much difficulty in her routines as possible, but what is required at the elite level isn't at the collegiate level.

"When they come here and they are making their routines, we try to point out to them what to expect, and to think about in college they'll be competing every week, not just every two months or every six months," Marsden said. "She wanted to do a lot, but she wasn't consistent. She really fought us at first, but about three or four weeks ago, the light went on."

That moment was right before Utah's meet against Brigham Young, when Kivisto casually suggested to Marsden she change one of her floor passes from a triple twist to a two-and-a-half punch front. It was a double bonus of sorts. The punch front is worth more, and Kivisto is cleaner on it.

"It's a lot easier for me to do," Kivisto said. "I'm learning to pick the skills you can do consistently."

Kivisto hopes to get into the lineup more frequently on the beam and the floor as she rids herself of trouble spots, but for now, she is happy carrying the responsibility of leading Utah on the bars every week.

"The first meet, I was so nervous it was ridiculous," she said. "The competitions are getting a lot easier now, especially on bars."