SALT LAKE CITY — For four years, Utah coaches have been telling Daria Bijak that if she just relaxes and enjoys her gymnastics, she'll be a better performer.
On Friday night, perhaps thanks to not feeling well, Bijak apparently became a believer in that method, and she notched season-highs in the all-around (39.45) and on vault (9.875) for herself.
Even bigger, she was perhaps the reason the Utes came through big on their last event, the floor exercise, to seize a meet in which they'd been behind after three events and to actually post their season's best team total.
Ninth-ranked Utah roared back from a so-so first three events before a crowd of 14,726 in the Huntsman Center with a season-high 49.425 on floor to beat 11th-ranked Nebraska 196.575-195.725.
Nebraska had led 157-275-147.15 after the Huskers had a strong floor total (49.10) while the Utes got through beam without a fall — but also without much pizzazz to their routines. They looked like they were just trying to stay on.
But then came floor, and Bijak told her teammates — all of them unaware that they were behind and in danger of losing for the first time in three years at home — to just enjoy what they were doing.
While Nebraska had problems on beam, counting a fall, the Utes danced their way to their best floor outing of the season with Jacq Johnson starting out with a 9.80, Stephanie McAllister (9.85) and Kyndal Robarts (9.90) tying career highs, Bijak notching a 9.925 and Annie DiLuzio popping a 9.95.
"All these years I was like, 'Ooh, I can't wait until I'm a senior, and I'm going to be done, my body won't hurt anymore,' " said Bijak. "And now it's getting close, and I'm sad. I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh, we have only two more meets.'
"So I went into this meet, and I enjoyed every second, and I soaked in everything — like how I felt, how I saw the fans going crazy and everything."
And she counseled her teammates to just do the same thing — take it all in and enjoy the moment.
"The end of the lineup, we were talking about just enjoying it and enjoying the fans, and we were building on each routine and we were aggressive," said DiLuzio. "We went big and went for everything like we normally train it."
"We just had a lot of energy," added Robarts. "I think we just had fun. Daria kept saying, 'Enjoy the moment.' You could see it on her face before she went, and I think that was contagious to the rest of the lineup."
"I think I was just loose today," said Bijak, "and I had fun. Last week, I was really nervous and cautious, and this time, I just go out there, I tried to do my best, and that's the best I can do tonight, and I enjoyed every second."
Between that and getting through beam without a fall, coach Greg Marsden hopes things are looking up and that the Utes are again moving toward where they hope to be by the postseason.
"What happened tonight helps, just to begin to have a good meet again and not make those big mistakes," said Marsden. "We'll see. Next week, we need another big step forward. We're running out of weeks."
Utah will host Oregon State, Penn State and Southern Utah next Friday, before going to Florida the next week and completes the home regular season with BYU on March 26. The Utes will host an NCAA regional April 10.
"If we can be at our best at the end, then that's great," said Marsden. "It's hard to be at your best throughout the season. But that remains to be seen."5 comments on this story
Utah opened Friday's meet big, scoring 49.30 on vault, its best since the Georgia meet Jan. 22. Bijak tied her season high, DiLuzio tied her career high (9.95) and Robarts tied Bijak's 9.875. Bars brought 49.00 behind 9.875s from Bijak and Jamie Deetscreek, but beam saw four straight scores in the 9.70-9.75 range before Deetscreek's 9.875 and Robarts' 9.80 while Nebraska was putting up 49.10 on floor.
The stage was thus set for Bijak and her teammates on floor to do what they were supposed to do.
"That was great. That was what I expect. When you're at home, you should be able to go to floor and win the meet, if it's close," said Marsden.