Utah Utes gymnastics: Revved-up Utes try to stay relaxed for regionals

By Linda Hamilton

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, April 4 2009 12:14 a.m. MDT

With No. 2 Utah competing tonight in the NCAA West Regional against five teams that have either never qualified for the NCAA Championships (Illinois, Boise State, San Jose State) or haven't been to nationals in a long time (Auburn 2003, Washington 1998), it might seem that the Utes would have to guard against a letdown.

After all, they're coming off their season-high score of 197.80 at BYU on March 20, the 10th-best score in school history.

But Utah coach Greg Marsden is not worried about a letdown when tonight's meet gets under way at 7 MDT in Seattle.

His worry is that his 12-1 team, with 11 straight wins, might be just the opposite — too wired.

"I know they're ready. I know that physically and mentally they're ready," he said Friday before the Utes' practice at the University of Washington. "The only thing that concerns me at all is that they don't try too hard with this.

"They've worked hard for this, and I think the only thing that could get in our way is if we get here and begin to approach things differently and then tighten up and make mistakes."

The first thing that could cause some pressing came Friday afternoon when senior Nina Kim, ranked No. 6 in NCAA all-around and No. 5 on beam, did not go to the team's practice in Seattle due to fever and achiness. Trainer Tom Iriye told sports information director Liz Able that he thinks it is the flu, so the rest of the team is also at risk.

Earlier this week, Kim admitted the Utes did stress about things a week ago, as Marsden fears could somehow happen again.

"We kind of had trouble and were trying to figure out what we could do to keep up our intensity but stay loose and have fun," Kim said. "Greg would put us into pressure situations, and we kind of had a hard time a couple days last week, but then we got together and figured things out."

Kim felt some end-of-season/career nerves last week.

"And then I kind of let it sink in a little bit," Kim said. "I'm so excited for us to be out there and show how hard we've worked and just to have so much fun. It's different than the previous years that I've been here because I'm just excited to have fun."

The key, said Kim, is to keep the mood light.

Marsden just wants to make sure his team doesn't change its ways. "Sometimes it can be different when you get into postseason. I keep encouraging them to not approach it differently," he said.

The Utes held a team dinner Thursday night in Seattle and spent several hours together afterward just talking. At that point, Marsden said, all seemed well.

"They were giggling and having a good time," he said. "Everybody seems really relaxed and upbeat."

Senior Kristina Baskett — who is from the Seattle area and will have a large cheering section — was a little different in her thoughts.

"We always take regionals as a serious meet," said the nation's second-ranked all-arounder, vaulter and barworker. "We definitely want to use it as a practice for nationals."

Utah has qualified for all 33 national championships since its program began, the only school to have done that.

Continued Baskett, "Same setup: It's an away meet, a long night, we're having byes, we're dealing with numbers and just crowds and all that stuff. It's really good practice, and we want to use it as well as we can."

She also looks forward to getting a good seed. "We want to be at the top at nationals, so we want to go in as high as we can."

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