They left it all on the floor — for an entire year — and the Ute gymnasts came away from finishing third at the 2009 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships last weekend with great disappointment, but with no regrets.
"Nope, not a thing," said coach Greg Marsden.
"We just have to accept that there were two better teams out there on the floor that night and be proud of what we accomplished and get ready for next year," he said.
"There were a lot of long faces, and there was a lot of disappointment in the locker room and the bus ride back to the hotel. But, with time, that's going to pass."
And a team that few expected a year ago to have much promise — but dreamed of gold anyway — will eventually be satisfied with bronze because it did all it could all year to over-achieve.
The gymnasts worked with the strength trainer when it wasn't required. When team sessions were done, some went back and worked some more. Most spent extensive time with the sports psychologist, even if they'd never done so before. They worked more with the nutritionist. They spent more time with each other out of the gym, in organized activities or just shopping or going to dinner.
"We didn't want to get to the end of the season and say, 'Well, if we'd have worked a little harder, the outcome would have been different,' " Marsden said.
His gymnasts took that even further than he'd hoped. "It was one of the most enjoyable seasons that I can remember as a coach," Marsden said. "This was a blast."
Last summer and fall, with 20-time All-American Ashley Postell having moved on, anybody with a passing interest in U. of U. gymnastics questioned how the Utes would stay toward the forefront with no big names on their roster.
"Even I wondered how we were going to put it together in a way that would be as competitive as we wound up being," Marsden admitted. "I underestimated the determination and the commitment of some of our athletes.
"Yeah, I was surprised at how good we were. I really was."
Those athletes saw it as a challenge.
"I think that was a part of their motivation," Marsden said. "They were determined to show that this was not a one-woman team, and it was their chance to show what they were capable of."
They had a consistent regular season, 17-1, were ranked No. 1 for three mid-season weeks, No. 2 for seven weeks and No. 3 for one. Senior Kristina Baskett ranked No. 1 or 2 much of the season in all-around and three events, finished second in the NCAA all-around last week in Nebraska and took third in the event in which she wasn't highly ranked, beam. She was also third in vault and bars.
She graduates in May and will work for the summer at Sea World in San Diego while hoping to pursue her dreams in photography or broadcast journalism.
Senior Nina Kim blossomed into the nation's No. 6-ranked all-arounder by season's end, and despite two postseason weeks with influenza, she tied for 11th all-around at the NCAA Championships. She has another year in school because she moved late into her art major, a demanding curriculum.
"She's got a lot of work ahead of her, but I know she's excited about it," Marsden said. "She's going to be one of those people that's in there in the art building until 2 or 3 in the morning doing projects."
Junior Daria Bijak was one of those with whom Kim tied in the NCAA all-around, and Bijak made the floor finals and finished fifth. Junior Annie DiLuzio came back from a Thursday-night fall to score 9.925 on floor in the Super Six finals.
Junior Jamie Deetscreek broke Suzanne Metz's 14-year-old record of 63 straight routines without a fall with her 64th clean routine before dropping off beam, then started a new streak of six.
Sophomore Kyndal Robarts came back early from a preseason shoulder injury to be strong and steady in three events. Sophomore Gael Mackie had her 9.925 moments on bars and did two all-arounds. Sophomore Jacq Johnson scored 9.825 at the regional on bars in just her second routine of the year and first on bars, in place of an ill Kim. And freshman Stephanie McAllister scored 9.80 in her first beam of the year in place of Kim. McAllister was a fixture on bars and did vault and floor about half the season.
The 197.80 at BYU was the ninth-best score in Ute history, followed by a 197.675 at the West Regional that was Utah's highest-ever postseason score and a 197.425 in last Friday's Super Six finals — its highest score ever at nationals.
But last Thursday, "We went in a little too tight," said Marsden, and had two falls and four wobbles on the second event, beam. They tied UCLA for the final qualifying spot to the Super Six and won the right to advance on a tiebreaker.
"Fortunately we got a chance that we probably didn't deserve or didn't earn," Marsden said. "We could have done better on beam (Friday), but that's a tough place to start. Our last two events (floor, vault), I don't think we could have done any better."
The season as a whole "was just a positive in every sense of the word," said Marsden. "Our goal was to win the championship. We didn't quite get that accomplished, (but) we have to be proud of everything we did accomplish."