SALT LAKE CITY — Coming off a season in which they constantly dealt with injuries and consequently missed out on qualifying for NCAA Regionals for only the second time since 1989, the No. 1 priority for the BYU gymnastics team this winter was to get back to the postseason.
Four days removed from a strong performance at SUU, BYU had a chance to ensure it will be among the field of 35 teams that qualify for an NCAA Women's Gymnastics Regional Meet when it faced rival Utah in front of a mammoth crowd at the Huntsman Center on Friday.
The Cougars seized the opportunity.
Before 15,030 gymnastics fans, BYU turned in a solid performance to close out the regular season. The Cougars produced season-best scores on their first and final rotations — the bars and the beam — to finish with a season-best overall score of 195.825. Utah finished with a score of 196.950.
Afterward, BYU coach Brad Cattermole said his team, which was ranked No. 35 at the start of this week, has done enough to ensure it will participate in the postseason.
"It was back to more normal for BYU gymnastics, instead of like last year where we were struggling to land on their feet," said Cattermole. "I was very happy. We're in Regionals. There's no way we could be knocked out of Regionals, even without tonight's meet. So we're in Regionals, and that was the first thing we needed to do this season."
On Friday, BYU was at its best at the start and at the finish.
Danielle Goldman, Natalie Eyre and Megan Donehue all produced career highs for the Cougars in their first discipline of the evening, the uneven bars.
After turning in OK efforts in the vault and floor, BYU ratcheted it back up again in the balance beam.
Donehue, a senior from Bountiful, produced another career high with a 9.900 in the beam, and her teammates were also solid behind her to help BYU finish the meet the way it wanted.
Donehue walked away extremely happy with how she performed on the big stage of the Huntsman Center.
"I couldn't have had a better meet," she said.
Donehue noted that she loved being able to compete in front of a packed house, and Cattermole echoed those sentiments.
"If you don't enjoy being in front of this many kids and competing against a great team, you ought to find something else because this is just about as much fun as it gets," said Cattermole. "Coming up here and competing here, this is a great environment. The kids loving coming up here.
"Everybody thinks of it as being intimidated — they're not the least bit intimidated. We're pretty sure that none of them were going to tackle us in the middle of the routine. It was just a, 'Get out there and do the best that you can in front of a great crowd.' It was a blast."
Now BYU's attention turns to the postseason, and Cattermole believes his team has a lot more to give.
"We're back to Regionals, and I think if we can put together a meet — it just takes putting it together on one night — and I think we can do that at Regionals, we've got just as good a chance as anybody to make it to Nationals," said Cattermole.