Following the Feb. 9 meet at Utah State, Ute senior gymnast Nina Kim had her first visit this season from one of her old inner demons — a need for perfection.
"Not a meltdown, but I got nervous, kind of freaked out, overwhelmed with it," she said this week as she and the No. 1-ranked, 8-1 U. team prepared for tonight's meet at 7 in the Huntsman Center against No. 15 Michigan (12-2), always a player at nationals despite its early ranking.
Kim let it (9.75 on bars, 9.60 on floor at USU) bother her for about two days and had talks with coach Greg Marsden and sports psychologist Dr. Keith Henschen, who has taught her, "to feel what I want to feel. If I want to cry, I cry; if I'm happy, be happy. I'm human. As soon as I realize that and accept that, things get better," she said.
"And then I just got fed up with it. I'm not going to feel like this. We have a national championship to win, and this is not the attitude we're going to have, and I woke up and, I'm happy again. I'm ready."
Was she ever.
Kim had a breakthrough night at Nebraska last Friday, scoring a career-high 9.925 on beam after the Utes had suffered surprise mistakes — a fall by Kyndal Robarts and a major wobble from fellow senior Kristina Baskett.
That 9.925 — Kim was able to, for the first time, simply walk through her beam routine as though she were on the ground — helped Utah cement the victory and a 196.525 team total at the site of the 2009 NCAA Championships.
And it gave Kim a career-high 39.50 all-around total and her first-ever all-around meet championship.
She now downplays that. "It was exciting. It's my first time. I actually thought it was going to be more exciting, but I'm actually more excited about having more all-arounders on our team," she said. Utah had five all-arounders in the meet.
Marsden had a different perspective.
"Well, it was so cute because she was very emotional about it," he said, noting that on the bus afterward the team gave her "the frog," a sort of traveling trophy that goes to the most deserving performer. "She just talked about it had been her dream her whole career here to win the all-around one time, and she was beginning to question whether that would ever happen. So it was very meaningful to her to get that done."
For Kim, it was, "another step. I wouldn't say it's like this big step, like I'm coming out of my depression, but personally I have to say I'm proud of myself for being able to allow myself to get help and realize my problem as soon as I did."
Kim was on medication a couple of years ago for depression but has worked her way out of it and was cheered recently to learn that her story helped an Oregon State gymnast seek help and overcome a similar problem. Kim says she thinks that's why she got it — so she could help someone else.
Her experience at Nebraska was part of a teamwide breakthrough, she said. The team has been winning and handling adverse situations like lower-than-expected scores, "But it was different. This time we were just like, 'We don't care. Nothing is going to stop us. We're going to keep going.' That was exciting to feel as a team," she said.
Marsden plans few changes. The only thing scheduled is Kyndal Robarts in both vault and floor as she returns from a shoulder injury. He said that other than Beth Rizzo, whose ankle is not progressing as quickly as they would like, everybody's reasonably healthy, and it's tough to find places for those deserving of them. He'll use two exhibitions in every event tonight. He told the team Thursday, "I don't remember having such a small team (10 plus Rizzo), that's so deep."
The Utes have actually done better on the road than at home, having had to count a fall in two of the three home meets so far. Now they have three straight home meets to remedy that.
"I'd just like to progressively get better," said Marsden, casting a wary eye at Michigan.
"I think they're an improving team. The scoring is a little tighter in the Midwest, so I think they're a better team than their ranking would indicate," he said.
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No. 1 Utah (8-1) vs. No. 15 Michigan (12-2)
Tonight, 7 p.m.