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Utah Utes gymnastics: Ute Baskett scores with 3 of a kind

By Linda Hamilton

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, April 19 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah's Kristina Baskett and Daria Bijak salute fans while celebrating at the end of the individual event finals.

Matt Buxton, Daily Nebraskan

Enlarge photo»

LINCOLN, Neb. — The word "boom" has meant a lot to Ute senior Kristina Baskett, who completed her collegiate career Saturday night with three third-place finishes in the individual event finals at the 2009 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships at the University of Nebraska.

Junior teammate Daria Bijak took fifth place on floor.

"It was a great night," said coach Greg Marsden. He laughed, adding, "It's kind of karma, the '3' karma for Kristina," in reference to the way the team finished third on Friday and how she was third in Thursday's all-around championships.

Baskett revealed Saturday that she used the "boom" word to help make herself a force on balance beam, the event on which she'd always been weakest, the thing that had kept her from being a really reliable all-arounder.

Baskett, who plans to be a professional photographer, learned to concentrate on her beam routines by mentally taking pictures of herself in every skill and pose on the beam. She says "boom" to herself in each skill. It represents the shutter click she would hear if she were really taking pictures. She says she said it about 50 times per routine "so I don't have time to get negative thoughts."

And it certainly worked.

She hatched the mental imaging technique last year and perfected it for her senior year, and she finished her career without a fall the last two seasons.

She finished her career Saturday night as the final performer of the 2009 championships on beam with a nearly flawless routine that earned her a 9.90 score and tie for third in the event.

Baskett also tied for third Saturday in vaulting (9.8563) and bars (9.90), the other event that she was weak on before coming to Utah. She solved that one almost immediately and tied for the 2006 NCAA title as a freshman.

Beam took a little more time, but it was worth it.

She had 9.90 on beam in Thursday's team preliminaries and then again in the event finals to tie her career-high.

"This year was my best year on beam, and to go out like that in finals and be the last person up in front of our fans was really cool," she said. "That third on beam means a lot to me. I never thought I would be doing that this weekend, even just to do beam finals."

Baskett even left her mark on the beam, literally. She cut her hand on a staple while pulling her beatboard up before beam.

"(I) was bleeding everywhere and had to wipe it all off, and I got blood all over the beam and my legs," she said. "I permanently marked that beam. There we go, I put my blood and sweat into tonight."

Baskett ends her Ute career as a four-time first-team All-American on bars, and her 9.90 was the 13th score that high or higher this season in her 14 bar routines.

"She just got better and better every year she was here and developed into a solid, reliable performer that could go at the end of the lineup and score a big score for us night in and night out and also into a great leader behind the scenes," Marsden said.

"Daria did a great job, too," he said.

Bijak has been sick through the whole championships weekend and was worse Saturday, but she scored 9.875 as the first competitor of the night on floor exercise. That held for fifth place, her best placing at nationals. She was eighth on bars as a freshman.

"Yes, I'm very happy," said the German Olympian. "I'm pleased. I didn't think about finals at all (during the team competition). I thought if I have a chance to get in one final, that would be great, getting out there and having fun for one more night."

She said it has her already thinking about next season. "Oh yes, I'm here watching the routines, and I'm like, 'OK, what am I going to change, upgrade for next year?' So it's a great motivation."

Most gymnasts prefer to perform late in the lineups because judges seem to hold their bigger scores until they've seen much of the field. Bijak has always liked going early so she doesn't cool down after warmups.

But even that may change next season. She is apparently warming up to going later in the Ute lineup so she can have a chance to score better with her unique routines.

"I was joking about that with Greg)," she said.

"I think I've learned so much this season, with being further up in the lineup (third in the Ute floor lineup this season) — and with being more confident in what I'm doing I can handle that next year."

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