Gymnastics Notes: Utes ready to compete for titles

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AUBURN, Ala. - All year long the Utes have stressed team, team, team. But tonight, a few get to compete only for themselves.

Ashley Postell, Annabeth Eberle, Rachel Tidd and Gritt Hofmann all qualified for individual finals Friday.

Postell and Eberle are two of the 12 in the vault finals. Eberle was the runner-up last year, and has another good spot this year, going second from last. Postell competes ninth.

Going just ahead of Eberle is Alabama's Ashley Miles, the two-time defending champion who is known for her powerful gymnastics.

Of the 13 in the uneven bars, Postell is sixth in the lineup and Tidd is 10th. Michigan's Elise Ray, the defending champ, drew the bad draw of having to go first, where she'll have to hope whatever score she earns holds true.

Postell can sympathize with her. The Utah freshman who is ranked No. 1 on the balance beam leads off the list of eight beam competitors.

Also in the mix are Ray, the 2002 champion and UCLA's Kate Richardson, the 2003 champion.

Floor has the largest group with 15 competitors, including Eberle and Hofmann who compete sixth and eighth, respectively.

Hofmann said she planned to use this year's routine, but brought last year's music from her wildly popular routine, "just in case."

A year ago, Miles and North Carolina's Courtney Bumpers tied for first, they compete fourth and fifth in the lineup, respectively.

Utah's last individual champion was Theresa Kulikowski, who won the balance beam title in 2001.

New format?

Utah coach Greg Marsden isn't a fan of the format for regionals and nationals, where six teams compete in a format that uses two byes, making for a long night. Marsden would like to see a new format where only eight teams advance to the NCAA Championships, and the Super Six becomes just four teams, eliminating the need for the byes.

However, Marsden's idea doesn't have much other support from other coaches, who don't want to make it any harder than it is to qualify for the Super Six.

Lineup change

Utah made a lineup change for the Super Six, replacing Stephanie Lim with Gabi Onodi. Lim vaulted for the Utes at regionals and on the first day of nationals, scoring 9.75 and 9.575, respectively.

Onodi didn't make Marsden regret his decision, getting a 9.8.

"That was the best vault of her life," Marsden said. "I asked her later where that came from. She has come so far from last year, when I was ready to send her home. She is definitely our most improved gymnast."

This and that

The Utes weren't allowed to mingle with their fans and family before the meet to help them stay focused, but Marsden and his wife, Megan, did go to the fans' hotel Friday and spoke to them in a pep rally. . . . Alabama's Miles scored two 10.0s, on the vault and on the floor. The only other 10.0 of the night went to UCLA's Kristen Maloney on the floor.