2 Ute gymnasts ready for home finale

Eberle, Hofmann have had distinguished U. careers

Published: Thursday, March 17 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah's Annabeth Eberle performs her floor exercise during a meet against BYU earlier this season during which she earned a perfect 10. Eberle and fellow senior Gritt Hofmann will compete in their final home meet as Utes on Friday against Arizona State.

Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

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Annabeth Eberle came into the Utah gymnastics program in 2002 with great talent, even more potential and surprising leadership for a freshman.

Gritt Hofmann entered the Ute team at mid-year, tired from competing for Germany in the world championships just months earlier, knowing no one, not knowing the language well, painfully quiet and hoping only to have fun after being influenced by a video of the Utes competing happily.

They've had different bumps, bruises and highlights along the way, but the two Ute seniors are united in thoughts this week that their college careers couldn't have turned out much better, that they have reached and exceeded their own goals.

Eberle, the two-year team captain — a real rarity — and Hofmann, who gets thunderous standing ovations as the last Ute performer in home meets, the prestigious sixth competitor in the final event, floor exercise, will perform in their last regular-season meet at the Huntsman Center Friday night when Arizona State visits the second-ranked Utes at 7.

Prior to their Senior Night introductions, more than 50 Ute gymnastics alumnae will be honored beginning at 6:45 as the team celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Then Eberle and her parents, from Reno, Nev., and Hofmann and her parents, from Berlin, Germany, will be center stage with the Ute coaches for a moment of individual recognition.

Hofmann can't even remember the last time her parents were able to watch her compete in person. Even as a member of the German national team, meets were rarely close to home, and they worked, so this night will be extra special for her. "I'm excited. They know I had a great time here, and I'm proud to show off what a great team we have here," Hofmann said.

Eberle isn't sure how she'll react to the emotional scene. "I don't want to break down, but I might," she said. "I can't talk about it without breaking down.

"It seems like (my career) just started, but I've been through so much. I don't have any regrets."

She has battled ankle problems the past two seasons but still managed to find the consistency that was the only thing she needed in her freshman year. So far, she has seven (including ties) of the all-time top 10 Ute all-around scores, five perfect 10.0s and 57 event victories.

Last season, Eberle didn't miss a routine until falling on bars at the regional, and she came back with the best vault of the field on the first day of the NCAA Championships, then was vault runner-up in the individual event finals. She's had only two misses this season, competing in every event of every meet despite the sore surgically repaired ankle.

Hofmann did one vault as a freshman and missed the rest of the season with a back injury but carried a 4.0 grade average even with her language unfamiliarity. As a sophomore, she was voted the team's most improved athlete and was a regular on beam and floor. As a junior, she missed six meets with back and hip injuries but came back to win the regional floor championship with that energetic, dance-inspired routine that made her a crowd favorite wherever she performed it.

With a much-upgraded routine to the same style of music this year, Hofmann achieved the coveted anchor spot in Utah's floor lineup, ending most home meets standing in the spotlight smiling grandly, having all the fun she dreamed of 3 1/2 years ago.

"I just wanted to experience that," Hofmann said of the joy she saw the Utes have when she watched that video years ago. Now, she is a focal point of that experience. "I really appreciate being last up on floor. The crowd makes it easy for me," she said.

Hofmann was a starter on vault and beam, doing upgrades she never expected to be able to use, until a bad wrist and broken finger slowed her last month. Her only regret is that shoulder surgery kept her from getting to go all-around. "Yeah, I'm pretty happy," she says.

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