SALT LAKE CITY — Junior Kyndal Robarts kind of upstaged her senior teammates with a career-high 39.60 all-around on Senior Night at the Huntsman Center, but everyone on the University of Utah team had a hand in building the season's best score on Friday night.
And they all could bask in the red glow of a monumental gymnastics attendance record as they gave the crowd a show, a 196.95-195.825 win over BYU. Both scores were season highs.
On a night when there was a laser show and many thousands of red-flashing sunglasses were handed out to help honor Utah's four seniors in their final regular-season home meet in a lights-out, pre-meet ceremony, Utah drew a crowd of 15,030 to help the Utes set an NCAA women's gymnastics single-season attendance record and up Utah's 2010 season average to 14,213.
That made Utah the 2010 NCAA attendance champion for all women's sports. Alabama women's gymnastics drew an average of 13,786, and Tennessee women's basketball drew 12,393 per game this year.
Utah's 2010 attendance average, however, is not close to the NCAA women's attendance records set by Tennessee, which averaged 16,565 in 1998-99 and has averaged more than 15,000 four other times.
"It was thrilling for me," said Greg Marsden, who has coached the Utes since their very beginning and who has toiled and innovated for these 35 years to put all those fans in the Huntsman Center seats.
"We are the envy of every gymnastics program," said Marsden, adding Alabama and Georgia probably would disagree with him, but the numbers do tell the story. "Our fans are such a part of this tradition."
"I think it's incredible just to be a part of it and be able to experience it," said senior Annie DiLuzio, who closed out her last regular-season meet by tying her career high on floor with 9.975 as the final performer of the night. She also had a 9.925 vault. "Nobody can say that they've experienced what we've experienced here," she added about the crowd record.
"It was exciting," added Robarts. "It was really energetic and upbeat. I could definitely feel it. Me and Daria (senior Bijak) before floor, we were like, 'Whoa,' because the upper bowl was full, too."
Robarts said she wouldn't call her career-high 39.60 an "upstaging" of the seniors, though she edged Bijak (39.525). Senior Jamie Deetscreek scored a 39.025, despite a fall on beam.
"I just felt like I was on a roll tonight. I don't know what it was specifically," said Robarts. "Just everything felt on."
Bijak appeared headed for a big night with a 9.825 vault and a 9.925 on bars, but she had difficulties on beam, wobbling after leaps and then somehow catching herself with one foot after nearly missing the landing on her punch-front. She came up smiling about the incident as the crowd gasped.
"I could not believe I did that. It was fun," she said.
She finished with a 9.925 on floor.
Bijak's mother, Christel Bijak, who speaks no English, was here to watch Daria's last regular-season meet. It was the first time she had seen her compete in college in person.
The Utes were thin on beam with Stephanie McAllister out (mild shoulder separation, expected to return soon), and a great night began getting iffy when Cortni Beers fell on beam. She'd fallen on bars, too, and Marsden said she was devastated, though he gives her a pass because she has been sick for two weeks. He did say the Utes need her back strong in those two events, though, because she is their best option for those spots on both.
Bijak's near-fall (she scored a 9.80 anyway) was followed by Deetscreek's fall, but Robarts saved the event from getting worse. It was the third-lowest beam score of the season for Utah, 48.625.
That was after Utah had started with season highs of 49.35 on vault and 49.425, tying the highest score of the season in any event, on bars.
They then beat that with a 49.55 on floor as senior Beth Rizzo popped a 9.80 after being out for several weeks with a toe injury, Deetscreek received a 10.0 from one judge and a 9.95 career-high total, and Bijak, Robarts and DiLuzio were all 9.90 or better.16 comments on this story
"I was really pleased with three events. I promise we train so much better (on beam) than what we're showing," said Marsden, noting Utah would have been in the 197.50 range without the beam falls, which he thinks are coming because performers are trying too hard to be perfect — which has to change if the Utes are to get anywhere in the postseason.
They host the 2010 NCAA North Central Regional on April 10.
"I still believe we're a very good team. I still believe we can compete at the highest level," he said, adding the Utes have yet to get everyone on the same page in the same meet. "Compositionally, we can compete with anybody."