Utah Utes gymnastics: Who will step up?
Red Rocks look to seniors to replace departed leaders
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — For Utah's No. 2-ranked gymnastics team, which opens its 2010 season this evening at 5 p.m. MST at fifth-ranked UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, it's a question of who?
Who will step out of their comfort zones and into the roles vacated by graduating seniors Nina Kim and Kristina Baskett?
Those two not only provided the Utes with many of their top scores the last several seasons, but also put together one of the team's strongest, most vocal leadership tandems in many years.
"The last two years we've had Ashley (Postell) and then Kris and Nina. They've been such dominant individual performers I think the rest of the team has kind of learned to depend on them at the end of the lineup," said Greg Marsden, entering his 35th season as the Utes' coach, now with his wife, Megan, holding the title of co-coach.
"So our biggest challenge this year is who is our go-to person at the end of each lineup and getting them there and getting them comfortable with that role."
The suspected candidates, he said, are seniors (Daria Bijak, Jamie Deetscreek, Annie DiLuzio, Beth Rizzo) and juniors (Kyndal Robarts, Gael Mackie, Jaq Johnson), "but they've never been in that position before."
It's just part of what Greg Marsden calls the "circle of life" that is collegiate sports, where the inevitable moving on of star athletes means opportunity for others.
"I know they're looking forward to it, they've worked hard to do it, and we've just got to get out on the floor now and see where we are right now and see what we need to do to go forward," he said.
For tonight, the Utes have penciled in Bijak to complete the bars lineup, Robarts sixth on vault and beam and DiLuzio on floor.
Bijak comes the closest to the star appeal of Postell, Baskett and Kim. She competed in the 2008 Olympics and 2005 and 2003 World Championships for her native Germany and was eighth in the world all-around in '05.
But those are more individual competitions. It's a different responsibility to anchor a team every week. And Bijak does not like to compete late in the lineups on vault and floor because she cools down. Megan Marsden said Bijak is more agreeable now but still doesn't want to go any later than third on vault. Tonight she'll be first.
Bijak is happy with her surroundings.
"I think I feel comfortable with my gymnastics, and I'm ready to have fun.," she said. "I'm at that stage where I want to be here right now and enjoy being a senior."
Deetscreek owns the school record of 64 consecutive routines without a fall and finished off last season with one of her strongest performances, a 39.475 all-around in the Super Six of the 2009 NCAA championships.
"She's got to be big for us and help fill those (Baskett, Kim) roles," Greg Marsden said.
"I think I'm where I want to be right now," Deetscreek said. "I have some room for improvement, but with the first meet of the year, I don't want to come out like the best I could be."
Utah — with a lot of preseason difficulties, from stress fractures to swine flu to kidney infections to an NCAA clearinghouse refusal to accept a recruit from Australia — will perform what Deetscreek calls its most basic routines tonight.
"We're just trying to hit and see where we need to make improvements and be consistent and see who's going to be in the lineup, who should be in the lineup," she said.
Deetscreek, however, sees good depth.
"I think it's just going to force us to push the whole year and make us better. That's going to light a fire in everybody," she said.
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