U. gymnasts lose to 'Huskers

Published: Monday, Feb. 21 2005 2:36 p.m. MST

LINCOLN, Neb. — The No. 1-ranked Utah gymnastics team tried too hard not to lose, and the result was its first loss of the season — by .05 of a point to No. 6 Nebraska, 196.650-196.60.

Utah led 196.600-196.500 going into the final routine — its only lead of the meet — after freshman Ashley Postell finished Utah's competition with a 9.95 on the balance beam.

But Nebraska All-American and 2003 NCAA floor exercise champion Richelle Simpson scored a 9.90 as the Huskers' final competitor and shoved the host team back in front for the skinny win.

It was the Utes' first regular-season loss since they fell to Michigan more than a year ago, Feb. 14, 2004. Unlike that meet, when the Utes had to count falls on the balance beam, this meet came down to "balance checks and little mistakes," said Utah coach Greg Marsden.

"If we're going to win a meet like this, we can't go into it trying not to lose," said Marsden, whose team dropped to 6-1. "We didn't go out relaxed and aggressive and try to win the meet. I thought we came out a little flat, and then we gave away too many tenths. We knew Nebraska was a team that is getting better each week and is extremely good on its home floor. We knew they would be ready for us."

He blamed Utah's deductions on pressure caused by early falls on beam and floor and a major deduction on vault and bars. And Marsden agreed that some deductions could be attributed to an adjusted Utah lineup.

Senior Gritt Hofmann was out with a wrist injury, Natalie Nicoloff missed her third straight week on the balance beam and Dominique D'Oliveira was pulled after an unsettling experience during uneven bar warm-ups. All three of their replacements fell or had deductions as costly as a fall.

"That's gymnastics," said Marsden. "That's why you get to drop a score. The problem came when some of the (Utes) fell early and the rest of the lineup tightened up. I want to see the others attack their routines when that happens."

Utah will no longer be ranked No. 1 this week as the poll goes to Regional Qualifying Score for the rest of the season. The drop will have little to do with Sunday's loss; in fact, that 196.60 road score actually helps Utah's RQS in an average of the six best totals, three of which must be in away meets, with the high score thrown out. Sunday's score replaces Utah's lowest road score of 195.275 at Minnesota.

Louisiana State will move into the top spot, followed by two-time defending NCAA champion UCLA and Michigan.

Sunday began oddly and the competition started late after a pre-meet problem with the uneven bars. D'Oliveira "peeled" dangerously off the bars several times during warm-ups and was replaced in the lineup by Riffanacht. When Nebraska suffered similar problems during its warm-ups, the bars were repeatedly taken apart and replaced. Finally, it was discovered that the men's high bar chalk (there was a Nebraska-Oklahoma men's meet running simultaneously) had ended up by the women's bars. The men's chalk was leaving a sugar-water residue on the bars, causing the dangerous situation.

The last time Utah competed at Nebraska, April 2003, it started the NCAA championships meet on bars, and senior all-arounder Theresa Kulikowski crashed to the floor during her routine and subluxed a shoulder badly enough to require surgery. Most Utes did not deal well with that situation, and the team finished sixth nationally.

Once competition started Sunday, Utah seemed flat, especially in its first two events. Only Postell, who won the all-around (39.60), beam (9.95) and tied for first on vault (9.925), seemed totally on top of her game. Her all-around score was just shy of her season best of 39.625, and the victory was her fifth in six all-around tries. Sophomore Rachel Tidd and senior Annabeth Eberle epitomized Utah's struggle with small deductions, even while scoring a 39.35 and a 39.30, respectively, in the all-around. Nicolle Ford tied for first on the bars (9.85) but landed her vault short and was docked nearly half a point.

It won't get any easier for the Utes, who must turn around and fly to Georgia for a Friday dual meet with 2004 NCAA runner-up Georgia.

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