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Utah Utes gymnastics: Bijak, Utes at unbeaten Michigan

Published: Saturday, March 22 2008 12:15 a.m. MDT

Ute sophomore gymnast Daria Bijak was eighth all-around at the 2005 World Championships, 20th in the 2003 worlds.

In college, because of injuries, she has struggled to get back to four events, breaking into the all-around by the third meet, Jan. 25, then getting sick and missing a turn, then stringing together six all-arounds.

As the 10-1, No. 3-ranked Utes prepare to meet 18-0, No. 4 Michigan in Ann Arbor today at 4 MDT, Bijak is finally feeling at home with her game and even successfully upgraded her tumbling last week at Florida.

Coach Greg Marsden plans to have her in the all-around again tonight.

"I'm ready on every event, and when they need me, they can count on me. It's not like I'm perfect, but I am confident," the two-time German national champ said.

"I was always an all-arounder and not strong on (just) one event," said Bijak, who ranks 21st in the NCAA and has twice hit her career high of 39.375. "Last year when I only competed bars and beam — I think it was good because I got confidence on those two events. I didn't have to stress out about all-around and could give my body a little rest. But it's so good to be back."

"I think she's happier because she's out there competing and competing well," said Marsden. "She was frustrated last year, and earlier this year even — rolled both ankles in kind of a freak deal (last August), and that set her back. As the season's gone on, she's just gotten stronger and stronger."

At Florida, Utah's first loss, Bijak did well at 39.275 and was especially pleased with her floor routine, on which she finally upgraded her last pass to a handspring double full, an E value. She had planned to do it several times, but it never felt right until last week.

Though Utah must be much better today to avoid a losing streak, Marsden said personnel changes will depend on today's warmups. Junior Nina Kim has "really been kind of on a mission this week to get back into all four events and has really demonstrated that to the coaching staff." He may add her in on floor.

Sophomore Annie DiLuzio is also picking up after learning recently that her leg pain won't turn into a stress fracture. "I do think that's been a relief in her mind that it's about tolerating discomfort rather than taking a big risk," Marsden said.

Michigan, one of the NCAA's two unbeatens, has had a terrific season after several season-ending injuries to top people last year. It beat No. 1 Georgia in Crisler Arena March 7 with its season-high 197.60. Lindsey Bruck is ranked eighth in NCAA all-around and has a high of 39.45, and Sarah Curtis has a 39.60 high.

Marsden said Michigan's 2007 injuries made it better now "because it gave some people experience they wouldn't have otherwise have, and the people that were hurt last year really came back on a mission."

Like Florida last week, Michigan is having its senior night and will have a large crowd. "It makes it even harder when you compete against someone who's having a senior night," said Ute senior Ashley Postell.

Facing the distinct possibility of losing two in a row, Marsden said, "I think we can't worry too much about that. I'd love to go get a win there, and I think that would be meaningful to us and a confidence builder, but what I really want to do is go have a good meet in that scenario. Hopefully that's enough to get us a win."

"Going into postseason," Postell said about a possible second loss, "it's not going to really matter because it's all going to start over.

"We know it's going to be a hard meet. It just depends on who's going to be on that night.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com

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