Keith Johnson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — One of the most important roles on a gymnastics team is the leadoff person on balance beam. The mental state on beam is the most delicate in the sport, and gaining a good start is a major boost to the team.
So sophomore Fumina Kobayashi is about as important to the University of Utah team as anybody.
Last week, she made a big stride in her development, pretty well walking through her routine and scoring a career-best 9.825 to kick off what coach Greg Marsden called "probably the cleanest beam set we've done as a group all year."
Kobayashi will again lead off on beam Friday when the third-ranked Utes continue their homestand with a meet at 7 in the Huntsman Center against No. 13 Washington.
And co-coach Megan Marsden, who runs Utah's beam team, hopes to see Kobayashi embrace that position, to take pride in it.
"We're continuing to try to help get her ready to really take ownership of that role," Mrs. Marsden said. "The leadoff is really important to set the tone. The way she works, she looks really comfortable.
"She does work tall and tight. I talk to her about kind of strutting when she's up there, giving an air of confidence. Her job is to set the tone for the group, and I feel that comes naturally with Fu with the way she works beam.
"I need somebody first up and last up, that works the beam easily and confidently."
Kobayashi actually had her best performance coming back from a fall the week before.
"I felt more confident in myself," she said. "I kept telling myself, 'I can do this how I've been doing it in practice.' I had a different mentality, and I think that helped a lot.
"Since the fall, I kept sticking my routines in practice. I just had to keep telling myself, 'It's just like practice. Don't let the nerves get to you.' "
She said she's had that approach in the past, "but I kind of forgot about it. It doesn't just come naturally. You have to work on it."
Utah will be bolstered by the return of senior Jacq Johnson following two weeks of being out due to a concussion. She is slated for bars and floor, replacing freshman Hailee Hansen and senior Gael Mackie, respectively, in those events. Freshman Corrie Lothrop, who won the all-around last week against Arizona State, will likely upgrade her bars routine, adding a second release, said Greg Marsden.
No. 13 Washington (6-5) at No. 3 Utah (4-1)
Friday, 7 p.m.
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