SALT LAKE CITY — With you've got a young, inexperienced gymnastics team that's trying to establish its identity — both individually and collectively — you look for someone to provide you with a spark, something that gets everyone else going.
Such sparks can make all the difference in the world.
In the absence of graduated stars Kristina Baskett and Nina Kim, this year's University of Utah women's gymnastics team is in need of girls who can step up and get the rest of the Red Rocks going.
A few girls produced such moments during Utah's nerve-racking 196.300-195.350 win over Iowa State, and Ute co-head coach Greg Marsden said afterward the importance of those sparks shouldn't be understated.
"It's critical because in the last two years we've lost our closers, and these girls that are now in that position have never had that opportunity to feel that before and to experience that and to learn how to deliver in those situations," said Marsden. "And so it's important that they have those experiences, so that they know that they can.
"And I think all of you have asked me, who's gonna fill those roles. I think things like that begin to answer that question — for them, for us, the staff, for our fans (and) for you guys."
Two moments, in particular, were big sparks for the Red Rocks on Friday: junior Kyndal Robarts' 9.925 on the vault at the end of Utah's first rotation, and senior Annie DiLuzio's 9.850 on the beam midway through Utah's third rotation.
Both efforts were career bests for those respective gymnasts — Robarts set a career high in the vault, while DiLuzio tied her career high in the beam — and both were the kinds of things Marsden was hoping to see from his team after a disappointing season-opening loss to UCLA last weekend.
In Roberts' case, she sustained an abductor injury during warm-ups before the UCLA meet and could only participate in three of the four routines against Iowa State. (She was unable to go on the balance beam because she couldn't do a front aerial.)
Yet at the end of Utah's opening routine, she stepped up and nailed an outstanding vault to score a career high of 9.925.
"I just had a lot of energy going because the crowd was really good," Roberts said of the 12,605 fans in attendance. "I think I did a really good vault, which enabled me to stick it."
That Roberts was able to perform at a high level wasn't surprising to her coach.1 comment on this story
"If you haven't learned this about Kyndal yet, I don't know what it's gonna take — she is a competitor," said Marsden. "She is a competitor. She really probably shouldn't have even been out there tonight. There was one skill that she just couldn't work through (on the beam), but everything else, she just sucked it up and, not only did it, but did it better than she did a week ago."
And then there was DiLuzio, whose recent hard work in the beam paid off as she tied her career high at 9.850.
"I was happy with the beam tonight," she said. "In the past, I hadn't been quite a beam worker, and I've been working really hard at that event and on my mental approach with it, so that made me smile — made me happy."