Utah gymnastics: Academically, Postell turns page
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Out of all the awards and accolades Utah senior gymnast Ashley Postell has received in her collegiate career, one of the most important she earned quietly, away from the crowds and the competition floor.

Last semester, the senior made the Dean's List with a 3.83 GPA. She celebrated the academic accomplishment more than she has many of her 116 career victories.

"I couldn't wait to tell [coach] Greg [Marsden], and I called my mom as soon as I found out," she said, smiling widely at the memory. "When Greg announced the names at practice, I was like, 'Yes!, That's me!' "

Those who have followed Postell's collegiate career probably know she rarely acknowledges victories with public displays. But achieving high marks in the classroom is something special for the health education and promotion major.

Her schoolwork wasn't always a top concern for her when she was younger and competing at the elite level. Like many elite gymnasts, she trained before and after school and often traveled to competitions, leaving little time for her studies.

"I wouldn't get home until 8 or 9 p.m. and then I'd be up doing homework until midnight, then get up at 5 a.m. to train," she said. "It was difficult, and every now and then you'd get teachers who wouldn't work with you and let you make up work."

After Postell struggled through her freshman year in high school, she opted for home schooling for the rest of her high school credits.

She took two years to get through the 10th grade as she made gymnastics her priority, then crammed the 11th and 12th grade studies into one year when she realized how far she had fallen behind in her academics.

"I would have been a year behind everyone else if I had taken too long, and that wasn't acceptable to me," she said.

Once at Utah, she had to learn to study in a classroom environment again, and although she was normally an A/B student, she admits school work wasn't a priority.

"It took me awhile to care about school like I do now," she said. "I was always focused on the gym. I thought, 'I have a scholarship, I'll just do what I need to do to get by.' "

Now Postell works as hard at her studies as she does her gymnastics routines.

"I'm trying to even it out and succeed at both at the same time," said Postell, who will graduate next year.

Her success in gymnastics has never been in doubt. She holds three Utah records and has two more within her reach. She also is one of the favorites to win the NCAA all-around title after finishing second the last two seasons and third as a freshman.

She is ranked No. 1 in the all-around with an average of 39.705 and has a large margin, at least in gymnastics terms, over second-ranked Ashleigh Clare-Kearney of LSU (39.57).

The last Utah gymnast to win the all-around was Theresa Kulikowski in 1999.

Winning the title Thursday would tie her with Suzanne Metz for the school record for the most wins in the all-around in a season.

But she isn't letting herself think about that record or the title itself for that matter.

"It's too much to focus on and it will get me sidetracked," she said. "I don't want to worry about that and ruin something that means so much more with the team."

Even if she doesn't win, she'll leave Utah as its most successful gymnast, and a well-rounded one, too.

"She learned she could be successful in both areas," Marsden said. "It's one of the things I'm most proud of her for doing."

lwodraska@sltrib.com