Utah Utes gymnasts: Team wants the title

It wasn't out of pride they put the goal on T-shirts

By Linda Hamilton

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, April 2 2009 12:38 a.m. MDT

Utah gymnastics seniors Kristina Baskett and Nina Kim, and their teammates, are not boastful people.

Just the opposite.

Which is kind of how this T-shirt thing came about. The shirt front says "Utah gymnastics," and the back has the team's 2008-09 slogan, "New Year, Our Year," plus, in small red lettering below, "2009 national champions."

It seems bold, but it's just to remind the Utes of their quest.

At the team's retreat last Labor Day weekend, before fall practice, coach Greg Marsden urged his club — which breaks its own record with its 34th straight berth at nationals when it competes Saturday at the NCAA West Regional in Seattle — to "write things down rather than having just a vague, 'We'd like to win nationals' kind-of-thing," he said. "To make a list of things you want to accomplish and to write it down so that you're in some way held accountable to that. I think that's kind of where that came from."

The goal is to overcome that silver-medal thing, the three straight second-place finishes at the NCAA Championships, and to finally win the gold that has eluded Utah since 1995. That was Utah's 10th national title, ninth since the NCAA took over women's sports.

Baskett and Kim had implemented a number of team-unifying and fortifying ideas through the summer and fall, and they'd been thinking for some time about getting shirts made to bring the team together even more.

"None of us could do it without each other," Kim said. "We all need each other."

After 2008 Beijing Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin — Kim's best friend — visited the Ute gym at Christmastime, the idea to put the ultimate goal in writing on team T-shirts was planted.

Liukin showed the Utes her Olympic ring, which had been engraved with the words "Olympic champion" before Liukin ever went to Beijing.

Kim explains that those heading to the Olympics receive their Olympic apparel, bags and the like, ahead of time. They also have to pre-order the messages they want on their rings.

"She told me that you could pick 'Olympic champion' to put on that ring," said Kim. "She said she was nervous because that's what her goal was, but, like us, she didn't want to seem too conceited. But it was like, 'OK, I'm going to put it on anyway because it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing,' And then she said she was glad she did it because it came true."

Remembers Baskett, "We were like, 'Wow, that's pretty brave — you know, to put 'Olympic champion' on the ring. And she was like, 'I know. I was nervous, but I just went ahead and did it because I believed in it.'"

That struck a chord with Kim and Baskett. They saw themselves in a similar situation.

"Everything is just connected in a weird way that it's supposed to happen — but we're not taking anything for granted," said Kim.

That stayed with Kim and Baskett when they went to the store to get their shirts made. They debated until placing the order, but decided to follow Liukin's lead and proclaim their goal.

"We did it because we all have the same goal of what we want to be," said Baskett, "so we thought we'd put it on the shirt to unify the team and let everybody know that that's what we are working for."

"It all came down to: 'This is the bottom line: We've put in the hard work this year, and we're going to keep putting in the hard work,'" said Kim. "If (a championship) happens, it's going to be awesome, and if it doesn't, we know that we did all we could."

"I don't think we've regretted it since," said Baskett, who will continue to wear the shirt even if Utah doesn't win "and be glad we made them just because it's our goal for the whole year, and it just shows how serious we were in wanting to be national champions. We tried as hard as we could.

"If it happens to not be enough, then it won't be enough, but it still doesn't change our journey and how hard we believed in that goal."

The Utes wear the shirts under their warmup suits when they travel, and they will wear them this weekend at practice in Seattle.

The "New Year, Our Year" slogan on the shirts is in yellow lettering, though Baskett and Kim wanted gold, for obvious reasons. It wasn't available.

They did prevail on Marsden to include gold designs on the new postseason leotards that arrived in the gym Monday, "and we're all wearing gold nail polish," Baskett said. "It just shows that we're really serious.

"We always have silver on our leos," she said, dismayed that it went so well with the three second-place finishes that are all she's seen in her career so far. "We were like, let's put gold on our leos" to remind themselves of what's important.

"It's just about our goal, and that's what we want to become," said Baskett.

"No, we're not sure that we're going to be national champions," said Kim. "We still have doubts. We work hard, and, I don't know — hopefully it will turn out the best."

NCAA West Regional Championship

No. 2 Utah, No. 11 Auburn, No. 14 Illinois, No. 19 Boise State, Washington and San Jose State

Saturday, 7 p.m.

Seattle

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