Gymnastics: Utah won't use diluted routines now
Same attitude: Utes need to finish first or second to qualify for nationals
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. - How do you go from pushing it all year, even at the higher risk of failure, to being conservative and only doing what it takes to advance?

In the eyes of Utah's second-ranked gymnastics team, you don't, which is what makes today's NCAA Northeast Regional competition an odd and nerve-racking affair.

The Utes compete against No. 9 Michigan, No. 14 Auburn, New Hampshire, Pittsburgh and Rutgers for a spot in the NCAA Championships on April 20-22 at Corvallis, Ore.

With the top two teams advancing to the championships, logic says the Utes should play it conservatively, make sure they stick their routines and advance to nationals, where they can bring back their all-or-nothing attitude.

Utah landed in one of the weaker regions, so, theoretically, it doesn't need its best to advance, but at the same time, a couple of falls could drastically change the nature of the meet.

"It's definitely more important to hit than pull out all of our skills," sophomore Ashley Postell said. "It's kind of weird, because we don't have to win, all we have to do is advance and get to nationals, where you go in like you have nothing to lose and go all out."

Gymnastics isn't like football or basketball, where you can switch offenses, because routines are choreographed to include certain elements. In addition, coach Greg Marsden doesn't like the idea of watering down routines because he believes it only will fester doubt in his athletes' minds.

One other aspect that works against going conservative is Utah's rotation. The Utes start on floor, the event they'd most likely play it safe if they got into a situation where they couldn't afford a fall, but that kind of strategizing is eliminated since it is the first event.

"If something happens, we might take an element out here or there on beam, but I don't want it to mess with their heads or their rhythm, either," Marsden said. "We haven't been in that kind of situation all year where we've had to do that."

The Utes bagged their more conservative approach this year in favor of bigger and riskier routines, and now Marsden can only hope they continue to perform the same routines under more pressure.

Utah has had to count a fall in all of its road meets this year except one. Today, the Utes might be able to afford two, but more might put them in danger of missing nationals for the first time.

The only time Utah has come close to realizing that scenario was in 2001, when Utah hosted regionals and beat Iowa State and Denver by less than a point after suffering falls on the vault.

"At one point I thought we were out of it," Marsden said. "But we were fortunate other teams had some falls on the last rotation."

Other teams have dealt with the same situation more frequently, as parity has come to the sport. Alabama nearly missed the cut several years ago and defending champion Georgia counted three falls on the beam last year and barely made nationals as the 12th seed.

Marsden said it's only a matter of time before one of the perennial powerhouses misses the cut.

"Going to a place where we've won this year will help us," senior Kristen Riffanacht said. "We need to go in relaxed, but we can't go in too relaxed or laid back. We know we've got to get the job done."

Elsewhere

Brigham Young competes in the North Central Regional at Ames, Iowa, against Iowa State, Arizona State, Arizona, Denver and Minnesota.

The Cougars edged Southern Utah by .04 to earn the final qualifying spot. BYU advanced to nationals for the first time in five years last season and finished 11th.

Individuals who qualified for the North Central Regional include SUU's Leah Sakhitab, Sheena Shaw and Ashley Sharpe and Utah State's Jessica Parenti and Meagan Lewis.

Regional

Ann Arbor, Mich.

Today, 4 p.m. MDT

Internet:

www.mgoblue.com