No. 1 Ute gymnasts dealing with illness

Published: Friday, March 11 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

The Utah gymnasts caught a cold and flu bug this week that changed coach Greg Marsden's plans for practice.

After last week's wins over Florida, Stanford and Cal, Marsden said he'd like to tweak some of the routines so that the Utes' routines weren't just tough, they were unique and entertaining too. His plan: add a little style.

And then half the team came down with a bug that's made even a minimal workout seem like a monumental accomplishment.

"You just have some weeks when it doesn't go quite as you planned," said Marsden. "It can be finals, a boyfriend isn't treating them well or they get sick."

Rachel Tidd has an ear infection, and six other gymnasts are fighting a cold and flu that saps their energy.

"I don't know what it is, but it's really gone around the team," he said. "It's made it a little harder to get done what we'd planned."

If six of the Utes are sick, their next opponent — Washington (tonight, 7 p.m.)— should watch out. Last week, Nicolle Ford missed most of the week's practices fighting a virus and even thought about watering down her routines. Then she went on to match her career-high score to win the all-around competition.

In the meet against Washington, which has become an annual meeting, they'll be boasting a national No. 1 ranking and four gymnasts ranked in the top 20 of the all-around, including Ford, ranked fifth; freshman Ashley Postell, who is ranked third; Annabeth Eberle, ranked eighth and Rachel Tidd, at No. 18.

Last week's score earned the Utes a No. 1 ranking, a position they've held six of the nine weeks of this season. And while the rankings may make Marsden smile, they don't make him any more comfortable.

"We were No. 1 for four or five weeks," he said. "It's just fun to talk about . . . It doesn't mean anything yet. The only time it counts is when you're No. 1 at the end of the season."

The win, he said, gave his team a boost at a critical time in the season.

"It was fun," he said. "More important than what it did for us in the rankings was what it did for our morale."

Postell, who is the highest-ranked Ute, is also tied for a national ranking on the beam at No. 4. She's one of the few untouched by injury or illness.

"I'm not the one that usually gets sick," she said. "If I do, it's really bad."

She nixed plans to change the dismount for her bar routine, something that's been causing her trouble lately.

"I was thinking about it," she said. "But I don't think I'll have enough time to perfect it this year. I just haven't been able to stick it."

She said the bars have become her worst event over the years, and she's even sought the advice of a sports psychologist.

"I have some balking problems," she said, referring to beginning a trick and stopping midway or just before. "I don't do it nearly as much as I used to, but I'm still working on it. I always think too much . . . The mind is very powerful, and it can do more damage than you think."

Postell's strength is the balance beam, an event she won with a 9.925 last week.

"It's definitely my best event," she said. "I have more confidence on that than the others."

Like her coach, the fact that she is ranked, as well as the team being No. 1, makes her happy but no more secure.

"Even though it doesn't mean much, it always makes you feel good to know you're No. 1," she said with a grin. "I don't think it's pressure.", because it really doesn't matter. But when you're down it's a good thing to think about."

She and Marsden believe the team will work out the bugs in their routines as well as shake the virus that's made practice difficult. "I think everyone will be OK by (today)," Postell said. "A good day off can actually help you."


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com

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