All Lia Del Priore wanted was a spot in a lineup, a chance for her routine to be more than merely exhibition material and entertainment between the "real" routines.
A year later, Del Priore not only is getting that coveted position, but oh so much more.
Del Priore, a junior who never competed for the Utes in meets last year, is the latest budding star for Utah's eighth-ranked gymnastics team.
The Pennsylvania native stole the show during Utah's recent win over Stanford as she scored a 10.0 on the floor, becoming the first Utah gymnast since 2005 to earn a perfect score on that event.
She also had a career-best 9.9 on the vault.
A fixture in the lineup since veteran Corrie Lothrop went down with a torn Achilles tendon, Del Priore now is dealing with something she never expected fame.
"It has been crazy," she said. "I've got people retweeting all my stuff, all those new followers and friends on Facebook and random professors I don't even know coming up and telling me, 'Good job.' It has been different."
Del Priore isn't as much into all the recognition as she is the chance to simply compete. As a freshman, Del Priore competed in the last 12 meets on vault and earned time on the floor as well. She finished the year with highs of 9.875 on the vault and 9.85 on the floor and hit 25 of 25 routines.
Last year, as a sophomore, because of her own issues and a deeper team, Del Priore never made it into the lineup.
"It was tough to stay motivated," she said. "I was doing the cheering for everyone else, but I wanted to be out there on the floor."
Rather than pouting about the situation or giving up, Del Priore went into the offseason with a mindset to work on her weaknesses specifically, getting mentally stronger.
She earned a place in the vault lineup at the start of the year, then got an opportunity to compete on floor when Lothrop was hurt.
"She had the potential to help us from the beginning, but she struggled with making mistakes in meets and doing what she does in practice situations," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "Now that she knows she is in the lineup and is secure, she isn't looking over her shoulder wondering, 'If I make a mistake they are going to take me out of the lineup.' "
Del Priore earned scores of 9.8 or higher on the vault in the last four meets and 9.7 or higher in the three previous meets on the floor before Saturday's perfect routine.
No one really expected such a routine from her because she was the second gymnast in the lineup to compete. But when she finished, it seemed everyone in the Huntsman Center knew they'd seen something special, as the crowd and her teammates started buzzing in anticipation of the score.
"As soon as I saw the routine, I knew she was going to get a big score," teammate Georgia Dabritz said. "Floor is the hardest event to get a 10.0 on because there are so many places judges can take off, from the dancing to steps, and for her to get it, it's crazy to think four weeks ago she was an alternate. That shows you just how strong this team is."
Now with a shot of confidence mixed with newfound fame, Del Priore has her sights set on possibly earning a spot in the balance beam lineup. She is the second alternate for now, but has learned chances sometimes come when least expected.
"My goals right now are to keep getting better and focus on things so when the judges are judging me, I don't give them anything to think about. I want to keep working hard and stay in shape, just in case."
Her 'just-in-case' moments could come more frequently if she continues her improvement, Marsden said.
"That is one of our strengths, working with people on the mental aspect of it with ... our sports psychologist, Keith Henschen," Marsden said. "Sometimes it takes people a while to develop those skills but more often than not they get better."
Lia Del Priore
Class • Junior
Ht • 5-foot-7
Home town • Center Valley, Pa.
Of note • Is the first U. gymnast to earn a 10.0 on the floor since Annabeth Eberle in 2005. … Has hit 11 of 11 routines this season and hit 25 of 25 as a freshman. … Carries a 3.9 GPA while majoring in math teaching. … Made the Athletic Director's Honor Roll as a freshman.
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