Utah Utes gymnastics: Freshmen rise up at NCAA regionals
SALT LAKE CITY — Confidence is usually something an athlete gains after years of experience.
But at Saturday's NCAA Salt Lake Regional, it was the freshmen who showed the kind of mental toughness that wins championships.
A number of freshman performances were critical in deciding the outcome of the meet — which Utah won with a score of 196.825. Nebraska, which beat Utah just a few weeks ago in the Huntsman Center, was second with a score of 196.525. Both teams will head to Duluth, Ga., on April 20-21 for the NCAA National Championships.
Of the four events, two of them were won by freshmen. Utah's Georgia Dabritz gave the night's best performance on the bars with a score of 9.9. It was a repeat performance for the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, who won at the Pac-12 championships two weeks ago.
"Coming off with a win at Pac 12's helped my confidence a lot," said Dabritz. "I still had a few things to work on here and there, but it was great to be able to nail two routines back to back like that."
Nebraska's nationally-ranked freshman Jessie DeZiel won the all-around title with a score of 39.40. She also won the vault with a score of 9.95.
"Jessie has been impressive all year," said Nebraska head coach Dan Kendig. "She is an unbelievably talented young lady."
DeZeil juggled her first season as a college athlete with competing in the Pan American Games. The Minnesota native helped the U.S. to a gold medal and earned some of the team's highest scores (three of the four events).
Kendig said the Huskers coaches didn't allow her to train on anything but bars until after Christmas in an effort to keep her healthy for her first collegiate season. It paid off as she's currently ranked No. 3 and appears poised to compete for national honors in two weeks.
For such a young talent, she handles pressure with the confidence of a veteran.
"She has not missed a routine all year," he said. "She's very, very confident. It's been a joy to work with her; she's so easy to work with."
Several Utah freshman had key performances on vault — including Kailah Delaney (second) and Tory Wilson (fourth).
Delaney said she didn't know what to expect of the experience but feels it gives her momentum headed to nationals and even next season.
"I have a year under my belt and now I know what to expect," she said. "I just want to go to nationals and have fun and do our best."
Lopez earned a bit of redemption on the balance beam — which she said will serve her well at nationals.
"It was nice to go back out there after falling at the Pac-12 championships," Lopez said. "I went into the gym and worked hard and to come back out and do well, gives me a lot of confidence and takes pressure off."
Utah State freshman Sarah Landes was competing as an individual and she was assigned to Utah's team.
"I looked at it as an advantage," she said after finishing in 12th place in the all-around, despite a fall on the beam. "They are an amazing team, and to compete with athletes like that, I felt like I should be doing the same things as they were doing. They made me feel very welcome."
She said the reception from the crowd of more than 6,500 was unexpected and appreciated.
"Being able to come here and compete, it was awesome for me," she said. "This is where I had my very first college meet. It was a cool experience."
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