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Utah Utes gymnastics: Seniors approach finale with new drive

By Linda Hamilton

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, April 15 2009 12:50 a.m. MDT

For the last three years, the University of Utah has finished second to Georgia in the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships. Georgia is now the four-time defending national champion.

Each of those last three years, according to Ute seniors Nina Kim and Kristina Baskett, the team went to nationals sort of dreading the competition.

As the Utes await Thursday's team preliminaries in the 2009 championships at Nebraska, "it's totally different," said Kim, whose team has dedicated itself to finishing first this time, even if it's still ranked and seeded second.

"In years past, I felt like the team was scared, almost too scared to be there and do well," Kim said. "This year, it's like, 'Let's get there. Hurry up.' We're just excited to be out there.

"I'm excited that I feel like this, and the team feels like this, too."

Baskett feels it, as well.

"We just want to be there. We feel ready, so we're ready to just go in there and do it," she said, noting that this last week has been perhaps the hardest of the season, just because of the waiting, especially since the Utes feel so primed.

Baskett and Kim have noticed that the entire Utah team — 17-1 with its only loss at Georgia back on Jan. 19 — is of one will, one thought.

"The thing I see is just everybody talking about it, excited about it," Baskett said. "We just can't stop talking about it, can't stop talking about how cool it would be or how excited we are and the good feelings and signs we're getting.

"It's the hot topic this week, which is cool — knowing every single person is looking forward to it."

This team's attitude is also different, because they do hang around together and talk about their goal, even outside of the gym. They go shopping together, go out to eat and do other things together instead of going their separate ways. They seem to be the definition of the word team.

"We're so close and talk about anything and everything, and this is talked about a lot," said Baskett.

Kim said they actually dream individually about the team goal.

"We're feeling the same things, and I've never had that happen. Seeing, breathing, dreaming about this goal we have all together, and it's just more powerful that we're all dreaming it all together at the same time," Kim said. "That's just so different. It's like you can see it. When we see it in our minds, it feels like we're going through it.

"We look at it like, 'This is fun. We're so lucky we get to experience this. Not a lot of people get to experience this in life. We should just go out and let our lights shine.

"Everything's just so positive, and I just love that about our team this year.

"It's this weird feeling," Kim said. "I get chills all over my body."

Something else that gives Kim a strange feeling is that the parents of two of last year's Georgia gymnasts are on her ticket list for this year. When she competed for the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy near Dallas before coming to Utah, she was teammates with Nikki Childs and Megan Dowlen and lived with Dowlen's family for several years.

Now that Childs and Dowlen are done competing, Kim is treating their parents to the 2009 meet.

And, get this: They'll be cheering for the Utes.

"Of course. Their daughters are done. They're like, 'You can do it. It's Utah's time.' I think that says a lot," Kim said.

Ute coach Greg Marsden said that until someone knocks off Georgia, the Gym Dogs are the favorites, and other teams could be up to the task, as well, but he clearly thinks this Ute team has the goods.

With illness having hit two of his athletes over the past 12 days, Marsden is a little cautious, but says, "I think we've got a chance, barring something else happening that's out of our control — and if it's not too much, I think we could fill in and still give it a run."

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