ANN ARBOR, Mich. Some years, Utah's gymnastics team has been able to pick and choose its spots, been able to be conservative if that was best, just to ensure it would move on from the regionals to the national championships.
That conservatism is not likely tonight to show up tonight for a variety of reasons as Utah operates as the top seed, second in the country, in the NCAA Northeast Regional at the University of Michigan against the No. 9-seeded Wolverines, No. 14 Auburn and unseeded New Hampshire, Pittsburgh and Rutgers at 4 p.m. MDT in Crisler Arena.
The top two finishers from tonight's meet advance, along with the top two teams in the country's other five regionals, to the 2006 NCAA Championships at Oregon State University in Corvallis April 20-22.
It seems like it might be a meet in which the Utes (11-2) could be their old selves if they wanted. They've won here this season, and the teams other than Michigan aren't real likely to be able to beat them unless the Utes destruct.
But with the new scoring code, the Utes opening on floor, their new aggressive style and a team that won't put up with holding back, coach Greg Marsden doubts he can take it easy anywhere.
"If I even suggested that to Ashley (sophomore Postell), she'd stare daggers through me, and the same with 'Queenie' (junior Nicolle Ford)," said Marsden, adding that such an aggressive attitude is prevalent on this team.
"They're prepared to do what they're prepared to do, and they look at that kind of stuff as a lack of confidence in them. That's just not their demeanor at all. They would not go for that at all, and I'd probably do more damage than good," Marsden said.
"Our intention is to win the meet," he added, "and if they're on, I don't think we can beat Michigan like that, being conservative."
Postell and Ford both said after Friday's workout in Crisler that what's best for the team is what they want, but they're not planning on taking it easy.
"Everyone wants to do what they're capable of," said Postell, no daggers visible, "but if it was something that was needed for the team, everyone would have to sacrifice something."
Said Ford, "Obviously, the goal is to make nationals, and if we need to water back a little in order to do that, I think that's what we should do."
Like Postell and Marsden, though, she doesn't see it happening. "I think everybody is OK with what they're doing," she said.
The Utes have a new philosophy, borne of extraordinary performers like Postell and Ford, who thrive on doing all they can. In the past, Marsden has only allowed athletes to do skills well proven. Now, he's more daring with big-skill gymnasts and because the new scoring code rewards big tricks much more than just being clean and elegant.
Teams spent much of the season finding out how different judges would interpret the new code, and now that they've put in all the things they've heard the judges mention, Marsden doesn't want to take a step back.
Utah's rotation makes change tough. The easiest place to change routines is on floor exercise and the Utes open on floor. Utah isn't about to open conservatively. Utah ends on beam, and there's really only one person who could change much there. Freshman Kristina Baskett has trained a couple of skills in the same place in her routine and swap one for the other.
The Utes, despite injuries last week, may be in their best shape of the season. Postell said her foot that has been sore for a month is OK, Ford says she is "pain-free" for perhaps the first time all season. Baskett had some back pain last week, but Marsden said after Friday's press conference that she seems to feel better, as does Gabi Onodi's sore shin.
Ford hopes to use this meet to educate Utah's freshmen, Baskett and Nina Kim, about multi-team meets. "They haven't been through that yet. Hopefully this will be like a practice run for them for what nationals will be like," she said, adding she noticed some nerves in Friday's practice from Baskett. "But that's what today is for.
"The most important thing is getting to nationals and then doing our job. Winning at regionals would kind of boost the confidence going into nationals," Ford said, "but it's not the most important thing."
Michigan is coming off an iffy beam at the Big Ten meet, but coach Bev Plocki assumes that was a fluke. It seems to shed off her shoulders that Utah won at Michigan for the first time ever Feb. 11 by .3 points. "Yeah, they got us," she said. But there's something greater at stake tonight than the rivalry, and she likes it that it's not one of those "ugly rivalries." It's a friendly, competitive one.Auburn dismissed two scholarship athletes in the preseason for team rules violations, so it's a bit short on experience with 10 freshmen and sophomores. New Hampshire has 11 seniors but lacks depth due to injury and illness. Pitt's best all-arounder will likely do just bars tonight because of injury. Rutgers does not field a fully scholarshipped team.
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