Utah Utes gymnastics: Focused Ute gymnasts defeat Michigan

By Linda Hamilton

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Feb. 21 2009 1:00 a.m. MST

University of Utah's Nina Kim, left, celebrates her 9.95 on the vault with Kyndal Robarts in Friday's gymnastics meet against Michigan in Salt Lake City.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Utah junior Daria Bijak performed a beautiful balance beam routine Friday night in the Huntsman Center in a meet against Michigan, but after a step on her dismount, she could be seen standing against the wall, wiping her eyes.

"That shows what we're aiming for, I guess," said senior teammate Kristina Baskett.

This Ute team is focused on a national championship, and it has a fairly unique personality of all-for-one, so making a small mistake is heartbreaking, but this No. 1-ranked Ute team is also becoming known for its resiliency. Bijak came back after her disappointment at a fine 9.85 score on beam to tie her career high of 9.90 on floor.

All season, the Utes have stepped up when one of their numbers stumbled.

Except this time, there weren't any real stumbles, Bijak's tears aside.

After a moment of silence for Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller, who has given much to the university, the Utes posted by far their best score of the season, 197. 525, to 15th-ranked Michigan's 195.35.

The reason? They not only hit all 24 routines that counted, they showed off their remarkable depth by hitting all eight exhibition routines. Not a fall anywhere.

"This has been a special year so far, no question," said coach Greg Marsden, whose club now has a rare week away from meets, during which it can practice and tighten up even more before hosting Arizona State on March 6.

"A lot of people are on the same page, and willing to do what they need to do," Marsden added, indicating it's been some time since he's had a club like that.

"We're in a good place now," said sophomore Kyndal Robarts. "I think we know how to pull each other in and help each other on each event, and it makes for a good meet."

"We know how to get pumped up and hit when it counts," added sophomore Gael Mackie.

Marsden said the team is making sure to cover all its bases with regard to not only physical training but sessions with sports psychologist Dr. Keith Henschen and the strength trainer and nutritionist. They don't want to look back next summer and say there was something else they could have done toward winning a championship, he said.

The night was filled with personal bests and near-personal bests, led by Baskett's second 39.675 all-around score of the season to win that event. It's .25 off her career best. She tied two career bests with 9.90 on beam and 9.925 on floor and had a 9.95 vault (best 9.975) and 9.90 on bars.

"I'm doing things right mentally," she said. "I felt good about my routines and hit them all like what I've been doing in practice."

Utah's vault score of 49.40, bars score of 49.375 and beam total of 49.325 were all second-bests of the season, and the floor score of 49.425 was the best of 2009.

Mackie tied her career high of 9.925 to win bars and had a career high of 9.80 on beam. She also did two events in exhibition. And senior Nina Kim tied her career high on beam with 9.925.

There were a few bobbles, but nothing worth more than a tenth or two, and even the little errors are a good thing at this point. They'll give Marsden and his staff something to motivate the team during all those practices next week.

"We made some little mistakes along the way, so there's still something to talk about and work on," Marsden said. "But we look like what we're trying to do. We're doing it well and doing it pretty easily."

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