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Utah at Washington
8 p.m., MST
What to look for: The No. 4 Utes have won five straight meets against the Huskies. Junior Nicolle Ford hurt her right wrist, but the slight aggravation isn't limiting her. Injuries have weakened the No. 18 Huskies, who scored a 190.425 at the Hawaiian Classic. Washington senior Kelly McDonald is strong on the uneven bars.
Elsewhere: Brigham Young opens the season at Oregon State tonight; Utah State competes at Texas Woman's on Sunday.
SEATTLE - The Utah gymnastics team spent the preseason tweaking its routines, finding out which combinations worked well together, which skills it could perform consistently and which ones flowed well with the choreography.
It's a lot of experimenting, but the Utes aren't even close to being done. With a win against five-time national champion UCLA behind them and a home opener against No. 6 Nebraska ahead, the Utes are using tonight's meet at No. 18 Washington to fiddle with the lineup.
Nicolle Ford, one of Utah's top all-arounders, may only compete on the uneven bars and Dominique D'Oliveira and Natalie Nicoloff, who didn't compete in the season opener, could break into the lineup.
"I need to try different people in different places and work more into the lineup," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "I need to find out that information of who to put where during the first half of the season so we can focus on the best lineups the second half."
In general, lineups are often made starting with the weakest and finishing with the strongest in the hopes that scores will climb through the rotation, setting up the final performers for some big numbers.
But it takes more to making a lineup than ranking gymnasts on their scoring potential. For instance, Gabriella Onodi has shown she thrives being the first up on the balance beam and Ashley Postell and Ford love to be near the end of the lineups where there is potential for big pressure and big scores.
The downside for the individual who leads off the team is she doesn't get much glory other than thanks from her teammates. Onodi scored 9.675s to start the Utes on the floor and balance beam at UCLA. Marsden said if she were later in the lineup, she would have earned much higher marks for the same routines.
"I know Gabi would love to be last [on beam], where she could get a big score, but obviously you can't have everyone last," he said. "They know they have to play certain roles and they take pride in them."
Some spots are a given. Postell, the 2002 world beam champion, almost always will finish Utah's rotation on the balance beam and senior Gritt Hofmann has earned the same right on floor.
The rest Marsden is putting together like a big human chemistry experiment.
"We've got to find out who can compete well in what environment in case we have injuries or illnesses and need to put someone," Marsden said. "The only way to do that is put them in that specific environment and evaluate it from there."
It didn't take long for Marsden to learn how freshman Nina Kim competes when the pressure is on her. He thought he was being smart in Utah's season opener, burying her in the middle of the uneven bars lineup behind usual steady gymnasts Katie Kivisto and Postell. Both fell, leaving Kim in a must-hit situation in her first college routine.
"There went that plan," he said. "But for her to hit that routine was huge in my eyes."
Marsden cautioned he couldn't get too cute with his lineup changes and leave the Utes vulnerable for an upset. Ford echoed those concerns, especially since the Utes still don't feel as prepared as they'd like to be.
"We know we still have a lot of work that needs to be done," Ford said. "We started fixing problems, but we still have some pieces to put together."