Ashley Postell's tie for the all-around honors in the Utes' last meet meant more than just personal recognition. Finally, the sophomore felt more like the gymnast who was one of the best in the country last year, not the unconfident, off-her-timing athlete who struggled through her first two meets of the 2006 season.
Postell, who matched teammate Nicolle Ford with a 39.55 in the all-around a week ago, suffered a slow start because of a ligament tear in her elbow in the preseason. She was prevented from doing any weight-bearing exercises for eight weeks, which seemed more like eight months to someone who rarely gets hurt.
"It was hard for me, the doctor slowed me down," Postell said. "I felt like I could have started doing things a long time ago."
Postell was able to compete in the first meet, something that was questionable when she was injured, but she was far from where she wanted to be. She fell off the uneven bars and scored 9.75s on the vault and balance beam.
Postell earned a reputation as one of the most consistent gymnasts in the country as a freshman,
hitting 43 routines in a row without a fall. She opened her sophomore year on a new streak, falling again on the uneven bars in the second meet, then nearly came off the balance beam in the third meet.
Finally, the fourth competition proved to be the turning point she was looking for as she scored 9.825 or higher on every event.
"I feel like I'm back to where I left off before the injury," she said. "I came back a lot faster than the doctor said I would. I'm happy about that."
Being unable to meet her own expectations was frustrating for Postell, especially since she entered the preseason in great shape and with a new arsenal of tricks.
"She came back motivated and had in her mind what she wanted to do and was way ahead of everybody else," Utah coach Greg Marsden said.
What she wanted to do was bring back some of the more difficult elements she used to perform at the elite level. Despite finishing third in the all-around last year at the NCAA Championships, Postell said she got a little bored with her routines and wanted to test herself this season.
"I didn't want to do the same old routines," she said. "I wanted to up all my routines."
In the recent win against Utah State and Southern Utah, Postell opened her floor routine with a double Arabian and ended with a triple twist.
"That's an international-level routine, no one else is doing that in college," Marsden said. "It's incredible to me what she is doing with as little training as she has had."
Postell has one more upgrade to add. She wants to end her bars routine with a full out instead of the double back she is using now, and hopes to do so possibly as soon as next week.
"Bars has always been my hardest event," she said. "Right now I just don't have the endurance I need for that dismount."
While admitting she can be a bit impatient, Postell is willing to give it more time before she adds the dismount. Most important is getting through the season without another setback. Injuries, she has learned, aren't for her.
Utah at Arizona State
When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
What to look for: Utah is coming off its best performance, a 197.2, the highest mark in the nation this season. . . . No. 2 Utah and No. 12 ASU finished 1-and-2 in the nation three times (1983, 1985 and 1986). . . . Utah has won the last three competitions. . . . The Sun Devils are undefeated. . . . ASU's Ashley Kelly is ranked No. 1 on the balance beam.
Elsewhere: SUU competes at Boise State at 7 p.m. tonight in a meet that also includes Alaska Anchorage.