NORTH CENTRAL REGIONAL
For the last two years in the NCAA's Super Six competition, the University of Utah's gymnastics team has met its downfall, literally, on the uneven bars. Both times the Utes opened up on the event, and both times costly falls took them out of the running for the national title.
This year, bars has been Utah's most inconsistent rotation. Guess what event the Utes open with Saturday when they play host to the NCAA's North Central region? You got it - the uneven bars.
Utah was given the rotation out of a random drawing. But the irony is tough to overlook, considering how much trouble the rotation has given them in the past.
The Utes, though, say they aren't worried about the past
"We're going to break the curse," sophomore Nicolle Ford said. "We're prepared for it. We're not going to review what happened in the past because it's a different year and different people."
This year, the bars gave Utah some headaches earlier, especially when it opened on the event. At Oregon State, Kristen Riffanacht opened with a fall. Then at Utah State, Dominque D'Oliveira fell as the leadoff gymnast and Riffanacht had another shaky routine and received a low score. At Minnesota, no one fell when Utah opened on the event. But the Utes didn't nail it as well as they could have, either, earning the season's low score for bars, a 48.875.
Errors on bars at Georgia probably cost Utah a road win too.
Utah hasn't had to count a fall on the event, and pointing out small mistakes might be perceived as nit-picky, but it is those tenths of a point that will decide who takes home the national title, or in the case of regionals, gets to the NCAAs.
Part of Utah's problem might have been that it lacked a sense of urgency when it opened on the event, a concern for coach Greg Marsden earlier in the year. Close losses at Nebraska and Georgia showed just what those mistakes can mean.
"We understood the importance of having to hit," senior Annabeth Eberle said. "But I don't know if we understood how important it was to get the ball rolling with a big score. It's easier to stay ahead than catch up."
Utah has had only one road meet, at BYU, since that swing in which it lost to Nebraska and Georgia. The Utes earned a 49.45 on bars against the Cougars, maybe the best indication of all that Utah's bars problems are a thing of the past.
"We feel really good and confident about bars right now," Marsden said. "Every event has taken its turn at being squirrely for us in different meets."
Some of the changes Marsden has made include moving freshman Katie Kivisto into the leadoff position. She has only missed her routine once all year. He has also inserted another freshman, Jessica Duke, into the lineup and she has scored 9.75 or higher as the second to go.
Ashley Postell has also gotten her dismount down, scoring 9.875 or higher in the last three meets.
"All three freshmen have improved throughout the season," Marsden said. "I really like our lineup now. Katie and Jessica are a really good 1-2 combination for us. We've depended on them a lot and they've been consistent."
Nothing though, would show how consistent the Utes have become more than a big score on Saturday.