Freshmen lead way as 'tricky' Utes drop No. 20 Minnesota

Published: Saturday, Feb. 18 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

There have always been two schools of thought in women's college gymnastics.

Utah was always the clean team, the one without form breaks and little deductions, and coach Greg Marsden didn't let his team do what it couldn't do perfectly. The other faction, the Georgias and UCLAs, have always thrown everything they could into routines, and sometimes they did it well and other times not so well.

But now there's been a slight shift in philosophy on the Utah gymnastics team. Marsden is letting his athletes do the tricky stuff they want to do, the big tumbling and such.

And sometimes people don't hit their routines. It's hoped they will by the postseason.

Friday night in the Huntsman Center, the second-ranked Utes had little trouble surpassing 20th-ranked Minnesota 196.65-193.40, but it was freshmen all-arounders Kristina Baskett (39.35) and Nina Kim (39.325) who carried them as some of the stars of the team made some errors. Senior Gritt Hofmann added a 9.925 to win beam and had a strong floor routine that scored but 9.85 on a night when some of the scoring was a little strange.

The errors by the stars were errors Marsden is willing to live with for now because he thinks this is a team with the wherewithal to get those big skills done, and a lot has been added to the routines of Ashley Postell and Nicolle Ford and others.

So when Postell made a third straight slip on floor, her hand losing its grip on one leg as she tucked on her unique double Arabian so that she got disoriented, he wasn't so concerned. He had been with her last two falls in away meets, but he said, "I am encouraged tonight," even though Utah will likely fall out of second when the rankings are announced Monday.

"I told her I was happy. She looked strong and the double Arabian was huge."

Ford had an odd night, running out of gas on her last tumbling pass and leaving out a skill so that her start value was only 9.8. She had a 9.8 start value on beam as well, though for a different reason.

"I got a toe cramp," she said, so she slowed down her connection move to try to allow the cramp to settle — and wound up getting docked for it, not getting credit for the connection because it was too slow. "I do it all the time," she said of getting toe cramps, "mostly on bars," when it doesn't matter so much.

The freshmen were gangbusters, though, Kim scoring her career-high on bars (9.90) and floor (9.825) and being just .25 off her best beam score (9.825 Friday). She has been out of the floor lineup with a knee injury and illness for the last three meets.

"We just wanted to get a hit on floor," Marsden said, happy at getting just that.

Baskett tied her career-best on bars (9.90) and beam (9.725) and Kim seemingly hitting a fine vault but getting scored 9.775, her season-low. All she could think of was that she needed more push off the vault table.

She shrugged off the score, saying she knows what she does.

"I'm just happy to be out there," she said.

The youngsters were buoyed by a season-best crowd of 12,746. "It was so loud," said Kim. "The loudest we've had. We're like, 'We hear you.' I like it."

Marsden told Baskett she's been thinking her way too much through beam, so he told her to sing along with her music. Ford does that, and former Ute Melissa Vituj used to sing loud enough people could hear it. It helps put the brain on auto pilot, and Baskett liked the results.

Kim said she's been working hard on her handstands on bars, and that helped Utah to a season high team score on bars, 49.40.

Hofmann said her teammates set her up for a good beam score by doing well in front of her, but she was as puzzled as the crowd by her floor score and talked at length about going back to her old "River Dance" floor routine of last year that the crowds loved.

She would keep this season's tougher tumbling, Marsden said, adding he thinks the crowd and even the judges might like the old routine better, and it fits Hofmann's personality.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com

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