It should be the most stressful time of her career, but Ute senior gymnast Annabeth Eberle has made peace with herself this year.
As her time in the sport draws to a close, Eberle is having fun shepherding the Utes toward what could well be an 11th national team championship this week.
"I'm looking at it as a positive," Eberle said as her four years at Utah enter their last week and the team she has captained the last two years readies for the 2005 NCAA Championships at Auburn Thursday though Saturday.
"I have a tendency to be really hard on myself," she said, explaining she has learned that she can be critical of herself when it will help and doesn't need to critique so much of what she does.
The change came from "people, believing in what they were telling me, I'm more believing in the coaches . . . knowing that I belong. I didn't believe that as much as I do now," said Eberle, who has always looked supremely confident and been a leader since the day the Reno, Nev., product arrived on campus but she apparently didn't always feel the part.
The result is an even stronger gymnast coming off the 2005 NCAA North Central Regional individual all-around, vault and floor championships as she led the Utes to their national-record 30th straight national-finals qualification.
Her regional championships April 9 were set up by a March that culminated in her first perfect 10.0 score of the season in her last-ever regular-season event in the Huntsman Center to earn the Deseret Morning News' athlete of the month award.
That 10 on a night she was so sick she had trouble breathing and wore down so much she had to replace two of her bigger floor skills with easier ones but still got the highest possible score was the most memorable of her career, which has seen her six total 10s, four on floor and two on vault.
"The week after, it kind of sunk in, like, 'What a cool way to go out,' " said Eberle, allowing herself to actually enjoy the moment several weeks later.
"It was such a good finish. One thing that stuck in my mind was all the fans, they'll remember that because that was my last performance. Every time they think about my last performance, it was a 10. I was just grateful that things happened like that because now when people do think back, they're going to remember that.
"That was more special (than other 10s) just because of the high emotions and my last regular-season home meet," said Eberle at practice on Thursday, the day that she turned 22.
It capped a 39.675 season-best all-around performance for her in a month in which she also had score 39.575 against Washington, 39.40 at BYU and 39.20 against Florida, Stanford and California.
She started the month nearly the way she finished, with a 9.975 vault that is her season-best and which she tied in winning the regional vault title.
In March, Eberle won seven events to set up her three event titles in the regional.
"I've felt more comfortable. I'm in a good place mentally," Eberle explained about her strong march into the postseason, even though her mind is on the team and its chance to win its first national title since 1995.
"I'm not one bit focused on myself," she said. She is beyond that, though she admits to taking more pride in everything and being able accept compliments better.
She's also buoyed that her surgically repaired ankle took kindly to a pain-inhibiting injection a few weeks ago. It took time to feel better but was giving her no pain in her last week of practice toward this week's championships. "That's making things a lot easier," she said.
And as good as Eberle was in March, coach Greg Marsden can see even more this week."Looking at her history, she's at her best in the postseason," he said. "She's typically at her best when it really counts. She's very determined."
Ute gymnast, senior, from Reno, Nev.
Season-best all-around score of 39.675 achieved March 18 vs. Arizona State
Scored 10.0 in floor exercise at same meet
Started March 2005 with a 9.975 on the vault in four-way meet
Runner-up in vault competition at 2004 NCAA championships All-American in sophomore and junior years
ATHLETE OF THE MONTH
January - Andrew Bogut, Utah basketball
February - Spencer Nelson, USU basketballMarch - Annabeth Eberle, Utah gymnastics