MINNEAPOLIS After their travel problems just getting to the NCAA North Central Regional at the University of Minnesota for today's 5 p.m. MDT gymnastics meet, the second-ranked Utes, the top seed for this six-team qualifier for the national championships, have a little more pressure on them than usual.
Delayed by a day en route to Minnesota, the Utes arrived too late for their scheduled practice a time when teams customarily measure their steps on vault and learn whether the bars are loose or on the tight side, and whether the floor is bouncy or stiff.
However, the Utes were allowed to practice on the equipment late Friday night, so at least they won't have to wait and do those things at today's warm-up sessions.
That's actually a little better than they would do for a regular-season road meet except, of course, this is not one of those regular-season meets that Ashley Postell calls "practice meets" and Kristina Baskett calls the "pre-season."
Teams must finish first or second tonight in each of the nation's six regionals no matter how good their reputations to advance to the April 24-26 2008 NCAA Championships at Georgia.
Other teams in the North Central Regional are No. 11 Arkansas, No. 14 Arizona, No. 22 Iowa, No. 27 Southern Utah and No. 28 Minnesota. Utah has defeated SUU and Minnesota this season.
No. 38 Utah State missed qualifying by two ranking spots but will have six individuals in tonight's meet, all gaining experience and hoping to qualify as all-arounders or specialists to nationals.
Utah heads into tonight's regionals still wondering if junior Nina Kim will be able to compete after spraining her right ankle eight days ago. She was on crutches last weekend, but the ankle progressed well from Monday on, and she was talking like she might be able to grit her teeth and make a landing on bars or vault.
Coach Greg Marsden wasn't sure he wanted to chance that and said he would see how she reacts to the equipment today before making a determination. If she can't go, Beth Rizzo or possibly freshman Gael Mackie would replace her on vault, and freshman Kyndal Robarts would take her spot on beam.
Ute senior Postell said she thinks Utah has enough depth to cover for Kim if necessary.
"It's not good when we lose someone like that, but it's also good when we have someone that can fill in and do just as good of a job," said the NCAA's No. 1-ranked all-arounder/vaulter/beamwalker.
Marsden agreed. "Even if Nina is not available to us, I'm confident of the lineup we're putting in all four events," he said.
To Postell, this is the best time of the year. "I'd say it's more fun because these meets are meaningful, they actually count toward something. During season they're mostly just practice meets," she said. "I think we're more excited now because it comes down to what we've been waiting for.
"We just want to go in and make the top two and qualify to championships. We're not worried about too much right now except qualifying, and we're not trying to get a certain score or have any expectations for this upcoming meet," Postell added.
Marsden said the team has continued that kind of businesslike approach through the regular season and into the postseason.
He doesn't expect to play tonight's meet safe. "We're not planning to hold back on anything. We're just going to do what we've been doing.
"If we go to regionals and hit our routines as we have the rest of the year, we should be OK," said Marsden. "Where we could get ourselves into a problem is if we have one event that really turns ugly, and we have to count a fall or two. Then anything could happen at that point."
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