Freezing up: Utes now trying to figure out why they sputter in key times

The Big Chill
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As Utah's gymnastics team gathered Monday in its practice facility, the talk centered around mental gymnastics, not the physical skills.

Although the general consensus is next week's NCAA Championships is Georgia's to lose, Utah has proved it is one of the top teams in the country physically. What the Utes can do mentally is still a troubling question.

At times, such as when it got behind at Arizona State or competed at home against Georgia, Utah has performed well under pressure. At other times, including Saturday's regional competition at Michigan, the Utes have been inconsistent.

Utah coach Greg Marsden believes his team becomes a victim of trying too hard at times, especially in the high-pressure meets, so how do you suddenly relax in the biggest competition of all?

"I'm not sure how to go about doing that yet," junior Nicolle Ford said. "I'm still thinking on it. It's a given you're going to be more nervous for nationals because it's such a big meet, but I was even nervous for regionals, and that's not something that usually happens to me."

Marsden said how to get the Utes to relax was one of the topics in the coaches' staff meeting Monday.

"We're going to try some different things to get them to concentrate more on the team rather than themselves," he said. "They just need to go in and enjoy the experience of being there."

Not that bad

Utah was ranked No. 2 going into regionals, but is just the 11th seed since only Arkansas's 195.4 score at regionals was lower than Utah's 195.7.

However, Marsden said the meet wasn't as bad as it may have looked.

"The bottom line is, without those two falls on beam, we win the meet," he said. "The beauty of the thing is we're still going to the national championships for the 31st year in a row; no other team in the nation can say that."

A year ago, Georgia became the first team to win the national title as a 12th seed.

"I guess now we'll go into it thinking we have nothing to lose," Ford said. "We've been one of the top teams all year long, now we're suddenly an underdog."

Who is up first?

One of Utah's trouble spots continues to be the uneven bars, ever since Katie Kivisto suffered a season-ending arm injury during warmups for Utah's meet against Oregon State on March 10. Dominque D'Oliveira filled the leadoff spot in two meets, scoring 9.775 and 9.675. Senior Gabi Onodi scored a 9.45 in her only appearance on the event after a grip loosened and she couldn't perform her dismount.

After a good week of practice, D'Oliveira earned the leadoff spot at regionals, but had two breaks in her routine and scored just 8.95.

Marsden isn't sure who he will go with at nationals. D'Oliveira has the potential to score higher than Onodi, probably in the 9.8 range if she hits. Onodi would be closer to a 9.65.

"I won't pull Dom from the lineup just because she made a mistake," Marsden said. "Gabi may or may not be more consistent, it's hard to know. It's a hard decision to make. We'll have them both do some routines and evaluate them."

Getting bumped

North Carolina's Courtney Bumpers, the two-time defending national floor champion, won't get a shot at a third title. Bumpers fell during her floor routine at the regional championships and failed to qualify for the nationals.

She scored a 10 on the floor last year, the first perfect mark handed out during the event finals since 1996, when Arizona's Heidi Hornbeek and Kim Kelly both earned 10s on the floor.