Something about competition agrees with Ute freshman Ashley Postell.
After mediocre warmups, she not only hit all of her routines, she scored her first perfect 10 on the beam.
"I was a little surprised," she said after the Utes defeated Washington 197.850 to 195.175 in front of 10,505 fans. "The beginning of my warmups weren't going too well."
Then she landed her vault, scored a 9.90, which tied a career-high. Then she moved to bars, the event she describes as her weakest. There she stuck the landing and scored a 9.95, also tying a career high.
"That was a bit of a surprise too," she said of landing her bars dismount, which she's contemplated changing recently. Then there was the beam, her best event in which she goes last perfection. She accepted with a shy smile as the crowd offered her a standing ovation. She won the overall with a career-high 39.775, and the team score tied the eighth best score ever for Utah.
"Her teammates really set her up well," said coach Greg Marsden. "The judges had nowhere to go. That's part of getting a 10 is pushing up the scores until the judges don't have a choice."
She won the overall with a career high 39.775, and to date, has hit 37 of 37 routines. That kind of consistency for a freshman is rare, and maybe even a first at Utah.
"We knew Ashley was a talented athlete," Marsden said. "What we didn't know is if she was burned out. She had a difficult and disappointing year, almost accomplishing a goal she'd had since she was a little girl (to make the U.S. Olympic Team). It seemed within her reach, and she struggled with some injuries that didn't allow her to accomplish that."
He pointed to other elite gymnasts the U has recruited, and most of them struggled to find their that first year of collegiate competition.
"I thought it might take a year or two to get back to a point where she was motivated and enjoying gymnastics again," he said. "We've had freshman come in and do extremely well . . . To the extent she's doing it, I don't know. She's setting the bar pretty high."
The Virginia native struggles with overcoming some fears in practice, but so far, those mental roadblocks don't seem to be bothering her at all in competition.
"She's a competitor," Marsden said. "She's a much better in competition than in practice. She loves to compete."
Postell wasn't the only shattering records. The team score tied the fifth best score ever for Utah.
The Utes performed so well and with so much energy, it was difficult to tell they were up against an opponent they've beaten every time 31 of the 32 times the two squads have competed against each other.
"I challenged them all before the meet," Marsden said. "I said 'We only have three more opportunities before the post-season, and we're still trying to accomplish a lot of things. We want to do big gymnastics with style."
The athletes took the coach's pep-talk to heart and except for a fall on bars and a step out-of-bounds at the end, the team looked like they deserved every bit of that No. 1 ranking. Several gymnasts tied personal bests, even when Rachel Tidd, who's suffered from two ear infections all week, decided she couldn't compete after two events.
"She pulled herself out of the beam," Marsden said. "Rachel, bless her heart, has been sick all week and just couldn't go anymore."
So he told Gritt Hofmann she would go third on beam, and then told Kristen Riffanacht, she'd be up first on floor. She hadn't competed on floor since Feb. 5.
"He said 'You're up first'," Riffanacht said. "And I said, 'OK'."
She wasn't nervous, despite the last-minute notice.
"I've been exhibitioning it relatively well," she said. "It was nice to it that again."
She scored a 9.850, and the team needed her score when teammate Gritt Hofmann stepped out of bounds on her routine, which was the last of an exciting evening. Marsden said he had no reservations about asking Hofmann and Riffanacht to step into the line-up, and in fact, said it's something he tells them to be prepared to do every night.
"We've talked about it all year," Marsden said. "We need that seventh or eighth gymnast who can step in and the team can be as good with them in the line-up. I don't think you can win without that seventh or eighth person . . . because something usually happens."
Despite the lack of suspense in the outcome, Marsden said the results of each gymnast thrilled him."We stuck four of six landings on vault," he said. "That's the most landings we've stuck on vault all year . . . It was a really exciting meet for us. We accomplished a lot of things."
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