Gymnastics: Utes cleaning up their acts

Small errors costly: Close loss to Georgia has gymnasts focusing on the smallest of details
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Handstands as straight as possible, clean dance elements and dismounts that stick - they're all part of good, basic gymnastics. But it took losing by a small hop's worth for the Utes to really grasp the importance of the details.

With just three meets left in the regular season, the Utes are focusing on the errors that cause small deductions, starting with tonight's meet against No. 17 Oregon State. A hop here or there shouldn't determine the outcome tonight, but it easily could be the difference between a national title or no trophy at all.

Utah learned that in its loss to Georgia by just .025 of a point on Monday

"It was the littlest things that separated us from Georgia," freshman Kristina Baskett said. "They had stuck landings and little stuff that was better. We tried to go big and put it all out there. No one can say we didn't hold back. But we have to do the big vaults and make the landings."

Vaults come to mind because they were the biggest difference between the teams. Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan said she decided to use one of her best vaulters, Katie Heenan, as the leadoff because she is the best at sticking her landings and Yoculan wanted to make a good first impression on the judges.

It worked. Heenan stuck her landing and earned a 9.85. Georgia scored a 49.5 on the event, the highest event score of the night for either team. Utah had a 49.35 on the event with several gymnasts taking small steps.

"We need to be a little more consistent with landings," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "If you can stick dismounts and landings, then you don't put the outcomes back into the hands of the judges as much."

The new judging guidelines put into effect this year allow judges to have a little leniency in how much they deduct for the small breaks. The hope was more teams would be less hesitant to try more difficult routines. But when there is a meet like Monday's, featuring two of the elite teams, or at nationals, composition still is the ultimate deciding factor.

"Most teams in the Super Six are very similar, so it has to come down to that," Marsden said.

The key to nailing a dismount or landing is what happens before that action. If a gymnast goes too hard, she might over-rotate and take a step back. If she's too tentative, a landing can be short and a step is needed to stabilize herself. Add in the adrenaline created by an atmosphere of a big-time meet and the simple idea of landing without a step becomes tricky.

"I've stuck vault in practice a lot, but it's difficult to do it in meets because of the adrenaline," senior Gritt Hofmann said. "I've done it once in a meet. You have to learn how to control it."

Against Georgia, Utah freshman Nina Kim acknowledged she was too pumped, and stepped out on some of her landings as a result.

"It can be nerve-racking," she said. "I just have to concentrate on sticking more in practice and hopefully I can do it in the meet, too."

The Utes are cutting back on the number of repetitions in practice as they emphasize quality over quantity.

"We're not doing a ton, but we want every routine done perfectly," Marsden said.