Freshman has learned to love uneven bars
Ford turns her worst event into her favorite
When freshman gymnast Nicolle Ford arrived at the University of Utah last August, she wasn't a big fan of the uneven bars.
Event coach Aki Hummel "had to fix a whole lot of things" in her routine, Ford said, remembering how he made her do just two skills over and over without allowing her to work on the whole routine for months.
"(Now) bars is becoming one of my favorites," Ford said.
As testament to that, she has been Utah's final competitor on that event in the first three meets, the spot reserved for the athlete with the most scoring potential.
Coach Greg Marsden said vault was a scary event for Ford, so he did what he normally does he challenged her to make the worst the best.
"She really took that to heart," Marsden said.
Ford scored 9.925 last Friday at BYU to tie teammates Melissa Vituj and Rachel Tidd for best in that event.
As third-ranked Utah (3-0) prepares to face No. 23 Minnesota (3-0) tonight at 7 in the Huntsman Center, Ford is again expected to go all-around.
The four-time international elite from Binghamton, N.Y., is coming off a fine 39.575 all-around posted at BYU.
Marsden said his coaching staff has been impressed with Ford since the day she first set foot in the practice facility, and she's done nothing but bolster that opinion in the five months since.
"She came in with pretty good credentials and skills," he said. "Her club coach did an excellent job with her basic skills. Yet, she's really open-minded to learning and continuing to develop."
In that BYU meet, Ford finally dealt successfully with her nerves on balance beam and scored 9.925 for second in the event. In the two previous meets, she'd fallen, in different places in the routine, but still scored 9.40s despite the .5 deduction for falls. After falling from beam in her debut meet, she got through that troublesome spot in the second meet and then relaxed too much and fell again.
At BYU, no such lapse, even on a "bouncy" piece of equipment that bucked off four Cougars, one of them twice. Ford said the bouncy BYU beam was similar to what's available in international competitions, where the beam is on a podium that allows give, so she was familiar with that feel.
Marsden calls Ford "a hard worker who really enjoys the process." Some gymnasts love competing, but not the work beforehand, and some love the practice but find competition unnerving. Ford "loves both," Marsden said.
Recruited by Michigan, Penn State and Louisiana State, Ford liked Utah for the personalities on the team and because Marsden somehow reminds her of her club coach, with whom she got along well.
She also enjoys being on a team. In her club, though there were a lot of gymnasts, she was the only one at the international elite level, so she rarely had teammates with her at competitions. "You did it for yourself. If you fell, it was just on you," she said.
Now, of course, there's a little different kind of pressure because a mistake affects the whole team. It's good pressure, she has decided, though it didn't really hit her until she'd finished her first meet Jan. 10 at UCLA.
"I realize that now," she said.
Marsden said the Utes may do some upgrades in difficulty for tonight, and if Vituj throws her triple-twist flyaway bars dismount, it may be unique in women's collegiate gymnastics. She's been doing it in practice, but he doesn't know if it will be used tonight.Junior Annabeth Eberle seems to be coping well with an ankle injury that she'll try to nurse through the season, and senior Veronique Leclerc (ankle) and junior Gritt Hofmann (pulled hip muscle) plan to return in at least an event or two after missing last week's meet. Also, freshman Rachel Tidd's shin splints responded well to the last meet, and she could be back in the all-around.
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