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Utah Utes gymnastics: Utah's Bijak happy with first draw in floor finals

By Linda Hamilton

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, April 18 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

LINCOLN, Neb. — Most people wouldn't be happy about being the first one to have to perform in her event in tonight's NCAA event finals. Ute junior Daria Bijak, however, is happy to be first up.

"That's kind of good for me," she said after Friday's meet when she was told what her starting position would be.

She has preferred to be Utah's opening vaulter, even though it likely costs her some in judges' impression since the first up is often considered the weakest. And coach Greg Marsden uses her third in his floor lineup.

But tonight, Bijak — by order of a draw held late Thursday night — will be the first to perform among the 10 who have qualified for the floor finals.

And though it could cost her — judges often save their biggest scores so they have somewhere to go when they see something they like better late in the lineup — she will probably be happy about it because she likes to go early to avoid getting cold after warm-ups.

"That and I'm done after and can watch the others," she said, sniffling and with a hoarse voice, saying she'd been sick through the last several days.

Bijak had the highest score of anyone in Thursday's evening session on floor, 9.90.

Marsden said she was rewarded in Thursday night's team preliminaries for her big, unusual and difficult floor skills, though she did not seem to get the same treatment for a clean bars routine, her first of that night, or for a big vault on which she took a small step.

She was rewarded again Friday night with the same score, another 9.90 on floor after she'd opened the meet with a fall from beam.

REST OF THE DRAW: Utah senior Kristina Baskett is last up on vault and beam in tonight's finals, the preferred starting spot for most people. She was second in the 2008 vault championships and is ranked second on the event this year. Her 9.95 Thursday night had her tied for second in the evening session. She scored 9.90 on beam to tie with eight others for first place in the session. Georgia's Courtney Kupets scored 10.0 in the afternoon session.

Baskett, who tied for the 2006 bars championship with Kupets when both were freshmen, also made bars finals this year and will compete as the eighth of 16 finalists, going last in the first flight. Kupets is up second in the first flight.

Southern Utah junior Elise Wheeler, the first from the school to ever make an event finals (and she made two of them), will go 12th on bars tonight. Her 9.875 Thursday night tied for fourth in the evening session. Her 9.90 on beam Thursday had her tied with Baskett and many others for first in the session, and she will be 11th up tonight, just ahead of Baskett, second-to-last in the event.

Missouri junior Sarah Shire, who competed for Utah the last two years and then transferred home, qualified in vault and will be the fourth competitor tonight.

FAN ZONE: More than 200 Ute fans crowded the lobby of the team hotel Friday afternoon to give the club a big send-off for the Super Six championships, and the team was touched by the support. In the past, the boosters have been there in small numbers, but this time it was organized, and many of those here in Lincoln attended.

The Ute parents who are here were introduced to the crowd in the order their daughters perform in the lineup.

The T-shirts and beads made up every year by Salt Laker John Bircumshaw and Scott Monson and Brian Hogan of Los Angeles are kind of a chartreuse green this year. Normally they're color coordinated with the team's leotards, but the fans wore gold shirts last year and have had red recently, too, so they went with a neon green to stand out in the crowd. Many of the fans, including the guys, wore gold nail polish, like the team that had committed its all to finishing first after three straight seconds.

DOOZIE: Ute junior Annie DiLuzio, nicknamed "Doozie," said she got a lot of looks around Lincoln Friday as she walked around wearing her "I Hate the SEC" T-shirt. Utah was up against five Southeastern Conference teams in the Super Six Friday night. As expected, SEC fans gave DiLuzio dirty looks while fans of other teams gave her a thumbs-up approval.

DiLuzio was pleased to learn that there is a pizza and sandwich shop in town called "Doozy."

E-mail: lham@desnews.com

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