Utah Utes gymnastics: Postell, 2 other seniors face final home meet

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 6 2015 5:20 p.m. MDT

Ashley Postell doesn't expect to get emotional tonight when she performs for the last time in front of fans who have hung on her every move for four years as she proved to be one of the top performers in Ute gymnastics history.
"It's the last home meet I'll ever have, but I'm not a very emotional person, like most people would be," said the woman who has won more all-around titles (27) than anyone in Utah's rich history and who needs just five more event wins — possible tonight — to beat Theresa Kulikowski's career record of 112 and match Kulikowski's single-season mark of 40 event victories.
"I guess everyone wants to be good their last home meet, but I'm not putting any pressure on myself," said Postell, of Burke, Va., in anticipation of 11-1, second-ranked Utah's final regular-season meet against 6-9-1, No. 28 BYU.
"It will be sad, but I don't think I'm going to sit there and bawl my eyes out. There's no point in that. That's just not me. I'm not the type of person that gets like that," said Postell.
Nearby, coach Greg Marsden and others adopted a wait-and-see smile about Postell's comments.
Marsden knows he will feel the pangs of losing a senior class of three that also includes two of the most remarkably selfless people in the program's 33 years — Katie Kivisto of Boca Raton, Fla., and Jessica Duke of Sandy.
"I always get very emotional," Marsden said. "I never think I'm going to, and then I always do. I'm not going to bawl like a baby, but I'm choked up and have a little tear welling up. You go through a lot with every athlete, and it's an emotional time."
With this senior trio, "We've got two great role players and one star," Marsden said.
Postell is the nation's No. 1-ranked all-arounder, vaulter and beam-walker and is ranked fourth and ninth in the other events. Her story is well-chronicled from her accomplishments to the way she planned to go to UCLA, but the Bruins eventually steered her to Utah.
"I'm glad I'm on this team," Postell said. "I don't think I could have fit in anywhere else but here."
Duke and Kivisto don't compete much, but Marsden characterizes Duke as "everyone's friend," a much-welcomed trait in a largely individual sport, and Kivisto as an important team leader. And they both are always ready when called upon. Tonight Duke should do bars and Kivisto floor.
Perhaps the best example of what's so unusual about these two is that they're OK with not competing much because it means that those who can score higher are healthy.
Last year, when Duke was going all-around, she said it was a sign something was wrong with her team. "That's really not where I should be because there's so much more talent," said the product of the Waterford School and Olympus Gymnastics.
She could have gone elsewhere and been a star but wanted to challenge herself on a team where she wasn't sure she belonged until she competed a few times and "was getting the same scores as everyone else," she recalled. "I knew I would struggle here, and I knew that I would have to work really hard, but I knew that if I did accomplish the things that I have that I would be really proud of it, and I wouldn't be just a slide-by."
Her final season, she said, "I've felt the best that I've ever been, but I've competed the least — but I'm happy about that because I feel good about myself, and I know that the team is in a lot of ways better than me."
Duke finishes school this summer, "And I have no idea what I'm going to do, which is scary," she said, "but I think I know how to work hard, and I think I'll get through somehow."
Kivisto actually told her mother and Marsden she was going to quit the team during her sophomore year. Her eating disorder had come back, and she was struggling with being away from family and her boyfriend back in Florida. He has since transferred to the U. But before she could quit, she dislocated an elbow. It's still bothersome, but she says that kept her in gymnastics. " A little while after I hurt my elbow, I decided, 'I don't want to quit. I want to finish this.' I was having fun doing gymnastics right before, for about a week before (the injury), and it kind of left me wondering what I could do." She also realized she didn't want the eating disorder to force her out.
"I'm so glad I stayed. It's been worth it," she said.
She never really expected to compete again after her sophomore year. "In my mind it was going to be an accomplishment to just stay on the team, and I was prepared to never compete again, just stay behind the scenes. For me that would have been enough."
Instead, she was voted Utah's most inspirational gymnast as a junior after earning a regular spot on floor, and this season, she's scored 9.825s on both floor and bars.
Last year, after an underachieving Ute club lost at Nebraska, Kivisto suddenly spoke up in a way that has continued ever since. Prior to that night, "I didn't feel like I was important enough to the team to command anyone's attention. I think at that point, I just managed to sweep that aside.
"I was worried some people were going to cave, and it brought out something in me, like, 'I'm going to do whatever I can to help these people from not giving up.' I didn't want anyone to get to that point of giving up that I had gotten to myself, and I guess I felt the need to instill a fight in the team," she said.
It helped change the team for good, and it showed Kivisto, who hopes to become a lawyer following graduation next December, that people would listen to her.
"I'm going to be sad when it's done," Kivisto said, "but I'm ready to move on — and I need to — but I'll miss it a lot."

Gymnastics finale

BYU (6-9-1) at Utah (11-1)
Today, 7 p.m.
Jon M. Huntsman Center

E-mail: lham@desnews.com

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