Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Ask Utah's Greg Marsden to characterize his four-woman senior class, and the long-time gymnastics coach is momentarily at a rare loss for words about the group that will be honored prior to tonight's Senior Night meet.
The 11th-ranked, 10-3 Utes are up against No. 35, 4-10 BYU to complete the regular season for both clubs in the Huntsman Center. Utah can win the NCAA women's 2010 attendance title for all sports if it draws 12,474 or more fans for this meet. Its current average is 14,049.
"It's a mixed group. Very different personalities from very different backgrounds," Marsden says about his seniors.
There's German Olympian and World Championships veteran Daria Bijak, Annie DiLuzio from the U.S. elite program and Folsom, Calif.; Level-10 product Jamie Deetscreek from Hatboro, Pa.; and former walkon Beth Rizzo, in her fifth year, from Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Bijak and DiLuzio have been at or near their best lately, Deetscreek fighting to follow up a very successful junior year in which she set a Ute record for consistency and Rizzo is trying to overcome injuries that sidelined her much of the last two seasons.
As different as they are, they have one thing in common: They have satisfied themselves. They say they leave with no regrets, no unfulfilled personal promises.
"I feel like I've finally figured things out," said Bijak, coming off two of the best all-around scores of her career (career-high 39.575 followed by 39.525 at Florida last week), and I go into the meet with not as much pressure as I did at the beginning of the season. I'm really enjoying what I do right now."
When she arrived in Utah, Bijak spoke English but was unsure of college gymnastics. It's far more team-oriented than the international style, and there's less time to practice. "I feel really comfortable with the gymnastics I'm doing now. I'm not doing as hard routines as I did with elite, and I'm really confident with them, and I'm still scoring very well."
DiLuzio was NCAA vault runner-up as a freshman but has battled elbow and leg problems her whole career. Still she's scored 9.95 on floor four times and on vault once this season.
As for tonight's finale — the Utes host the 2010 North Central Regional April 10, but this is the last regular-season meet in the Huntsman.
"It's exciting, it's sad, it's so many different emotions," DiLuzio said. "It's crazy because it is coming to an end — and the realization that there's no more gymnastics in a month, there's no more going in the gym to work out and no more assignments to do.
"I feel like this year I've really just tried to enjoy it and do my gymnastics for me. I think that I've done that. I have no regrets, no anything."
Deetscreek, who came to Utah in awe of older teammates Ashley Postell, Nicolle Ford and Kristina Baskett, went a Ute-record 64 straight routines without a fall last year. She's had three this season, but also had 9.90s on bars and beam (three straight) and an all-around of 39.425.
"This year has been some ups and downs," Deetscreek said, "but I think for the most part, I'm going to go out with accomplishing everything that I wanted to.
"I didn't really have high expectations when I got here as a freshman.
I think it's been more than I expected," Deetscreek said, "and I've learned to love competing in front of all those people when I thought I was just going to be a scared freshman my whole career."
Rizzo missed essentially all of last season with a severe ankle injury in the first meet and fought until this mid-season to regain her confidence on floor exercise, where she was a 2007 All-American. Just as she got back into floor, a toe injury sidelined her for three meets. She did floor in exhibition last week and feels ready to resume her leadoff role and to vault if needed.
Rizzo will do vault and floor tonight as sophomore Stephanie McAllister has a mild shoulder separation after a fall from beam in practice Tuesday. Kate Mohr and Fumi Kobayashi will do vault and beam, and Cortni Beers, who's had an allergic reaction to medicine given her last week for strep, is expected back on bars after practicing Thursday.
"Postseason is the most important," Rizzo said, hoping this week's work will lead to further opportunity. "I would love to be another option (for the coaches to consider)." But even if that doesn't happen, her being healthy helps improve the team, and that makes her feel she's done her job.
"Being the walkon that earned her way in, that has to work hard to get a spot, I hope that has pushed other people. I'd like to think that was my role, and I've done it well."
She's been doing gymnastics since age 2 and still loves it more than anything but her parents, she said, but, "I'm ready to move on to the rest of my life. I have plans. But it's going to be a big part of me that I'm kind of leaving behind."
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