Utah gymnastics: U. using mind games to settle nerves

By Linda Hamilton

Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 20 2010 1:25 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — One day, Megan Marsden told her University of Utah balance beam workers that they had to tell her something they did during their routines to make things easier for them to concentrate, something that eased their nerves.

"So I tried counting, and it started working," said senior Jamie Deetscreek. She'd done it before to some extent but never really thought about it until she had to have an answer for Marsden, now the Utes' co-head coach.

"It forced me to try to find something to do instead of just saying, 'Well, I just go fast and try not to think about anything,' because that's hard in a meet situation," Deetscreek said.

"I think it's helped definitely when I'm under stress, whether somebody fell, or I'm nervous or I had a bad warmup. I can get in that frame of mind and count."

It wasn't the total answer because she fell on her flight series at UCLA. For someone who's been one of the most consistent performers ever for the Utes — she went a school-record 64 straight routines without a fall last season until having one at the NCAAs — that was a bit of a surprise.

But another suggestion from Marsden after the UCLA fall seemed to help.

"I said, 'What about trying a certain count (just) for that skill?' " Marsden said, talking about the roundoff-layout.

"And she decided on, 'One, two, t-t-h-h-r-r-e-e-e,' and the three is the layout, and the one-two are the hand placements.

"It was only one time," Marsden said, "but I'll tell you what — it was the best series she's ever done in a meet (on beam)."

Deetscreek scored a 9.90 on beam in Friday's home-opener against Iowa State (a 196.30-195.35 Ute victory), just .05 off her career high as she came back from the fall of a week before, the new cadence helping to slow her down.

It gives her "The rhythm so she doesn't rush it," Marsden said. "She gets in a hurry and messes up the technique, and that makes it harder to stay on the beam."

"Yeah, I did it all last week at practice and at the meet, too, and it seemed to work," said Deetscreek, who seems interested in continuing her counting. "You can't say something is going to work for sure every time, but it seemed to work. (It) makes me calm down a little bit. That skill, I get a little bit more nervous than the others."

Deetscreek went on to win the all-around, for just the second time in her career, beating senior teammate Daria Bijak, 39.425-39.40.

RANKINGS: Friday's team total of 196.30 — tied for the third-best total in the country this season behind UCLA's 196.60 against Utah in Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 9 and a 196.575 by Florida at home against Arkansas on Friday — moved Utah up from No. 11 in the rankings last week to sixth behind UCLA, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida and Oregon State this week.

Four-time defending NCAA champion Georgia, which meets Utah in the Huntsman Center this Friday night at 7, remained ranked an uncharacteristic No. 10 after scoring 195.50 at Alabama on Friday.

Southern Utah ranks 21st, Brigham Young is tied for 27th, and Utah State is 49th two weeks into the season.

Individually, Ute senior Annie DiLuzio is tied with Georgia's Courtney McCool and UCLA's Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs for No. 1 in floor exercise, each with a 9.912 season average. The Ute team ranks No. 2 behind UCLA in floor average at 39.087.

GOALS: Things were sort of back to normal after Friday's meet, but the Utes still "aren't there yet," said Marsden, who ran Monday's practice as her husband and co-coach, Greg Marsden, went home sick. "We still have some work yet to do, and we're talking about addressing those (issues) from week to week to week."

But at least this week, the Utes can focus on smaller miscues than they did last week after getting "embarrassed" at UCLA.

They will work on what Megan called "mental tightness" to keep their minds moving forward during routines and not stressing over mistakes made.

And, she said, "We're going to try to improve our leaps and jumps on beam and floor, our handstands on bars and our landings everywhere. Those can be a difference maker. If we make some improvements in those areas, those are an absolute score changer."

Gymnastics Top 10

School........Season-Avg.

1. UCLA........196.362

2. Oklahoma........196.275

3. Alabama........195.962

4. Florida........195.925

5. Oregon State........195.875

6. Utah........195.712

7. Arkansas........195.662

8. Stanford........195.537

9. Nebraska........195.450

10. Georgia........195.325

Also

21. Southern Utah........194.100

27. (tie) BYU

49. Utah State

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