Utah Utes gymnastics: Jacq Johnson became someone Utes could count on during her career
Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes slow and steady does win the race, and Ute senior gymnast Jacq Johnson is going out in style.
She has not only fulfilled her modest goal of wanting to compete all-around, she's become somebody the Utes count on in all four events.
And, having tied for fourth place in the all-around at the Norman (Okla.) NCAA Regional on April 2, she's going into this weekend's 2011 NCAA Championships at Cleveland with a pretty good lock on another all-around spot to conclude her career.
"I don't think there's any question about it," said coach Greg Marsden.
Johnson — who is from Ohio and will have some of her family watch her compete for the first time in college, though at least one of her parents has come to just about every Ute meet, even if she wasn't in the lineup — has turned her senior year into a dream-come-true experience.
"To her credit," said Ute co-coach Megan Marsden, "she kept plugging away, and in her last year, in my opinion, Jacq is the best she's been for us. I think any athlete would hope for that. She has built to a point that Jacq is at her best her senior year going to postseason. What else can you ask for?"
Johnson's college career began with a thud when she severely rolled both ankles the week training began. A quiet girl who loves to read and is a serious student also took a while to figure out college life.
"Freshman year, it was a big adjustment year for me, going from so much structure in club to having a ton more freedom in college, socially and gymnastics-wise. I think that was a huge change for me," she said.
"Freshman year wasn't what I expected," but she eventually got to do a few exhibition routines, which got her ready for the next year. "I could tell how exciting it was to be a part of a team and be able to compete and help a team," she said.
Her sophomore year found her more adjusted and ready.
"I was able to get my skills back to how they were, and they put me in at regionals because Nina (Kim) was sick, and that was super-exciting for me. I was nervous, but I was glad I was getting a chance to prove myself and show the coaches I could help the team.
"That year was a confidence-booster. Sophomore year helped me feel like I belonged more on the team," she said.
It led to a hard-working summer, which led to a regular spot on bars and floor as a junior, and she exhibitioned a few times on beam, even though a bruised tailbone slowed that third year.
"It was nice to be out there and for once be the person that the team was relying on to contribute every week," Johnson recalled.
Last summer, she put in even more effort.
"It gave me a lot of motivation," she said, "and I just wanted to be able to end my college career on a high note and finish it with my best year."
"I'm just happy for her that this year, it's almost more than she could have dreamt up for herself," said co-coach Megan Marsden, whose beam team now relies on Johnson as its leadoff hitter since sophomore Fumina Kobayashi broke a foot the week of the regional.
"I know that all-around was a goal for her — and it wasn't handed to her," said Megan Marsden, adding that Johnson had mental challenges on beam that she's conquered. She opened beam at the regional with a 9.70 despite very tight judging all day in that event.
Vault has also been a nemesis for Johnson, who does not have the quick-twitch muscles that favor that event. Loose ankles haven't helped. Yet she's been in the vault lineup three of the last four meets — hampered earlier by a concussion after starting 2011 in the vault lineup. She scored a 9.775 at regionals, the second-best score of her career, and totaled 39.175 for the day, fourth on the leaderboard.
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