SALT LAKE CITY — Last Friday, when Daria Bijak told her teammates prior to the floor exercise to just relax and enjoy every minute they have in Utah gymnastics, it not only motivated the team to pound out its best floor score (49.425) and meet total (196.575) of the season.
It also struck a chord with fellow senior Annie DiLuzio (9.95 floor score that night, to go with her 9.95 vault). So don't be surprised if she is trying to take in the whole experience again Friday night at 7 when the ninth-ranked Utes play host to No. 8 Oregon State, No. 18 Penn State and No. 21 Southern Utah on Short People Appreciation Night (those under 5-foot-2 are admitted free).
"Before floor, Daria came over and said, 'Just enjoy it. We only have three more of these in the Huntsman Center,' " DiLuzio said at practice this week. "And that just kind of got to me, and, 'Oh, man, I need to really enjoy myself,' and I did. I feel like that helped. It goes by so fast. We're almost done, and it feels like we almost started."
DiLuzio said that former teammates had told her the same thing, but it really hit home last week.
"I've been trying to do that for most of the year," she said. "People that are done, they kind of warn you — 'Oh, enjoy every moment, It goes fast.'
"You kind of hear it but not take it all in, but it flies by, and there's not going to be any more gymnastics. I've got to take in everything."
She says it seems to suit this Ute team when it can convince itself to be relaxed.
"Keeping our eyes focused on what we need to do is the main thing, and trying to have fun with it," DiLuzio said. "This team does better with a light atmosphere, just kind of joking around but still getting the job done."
Bijak — who was sick last week, which helped her relax even more — has been sick all this week as well with stomach disorders. She also has an ulcer, and doctors did a 'scope on her Wednesday and prescribed medication to calm her down, said coach Greg Marsden.
He said she's been feeling weak and unable to eat well, so he doesn't know how much she will be able to do in the quad meet. He worries most about the fatiguing floor exercise and said he might have to replace Bijak with freshman Meg Whitney.
Senior Beth Rizzo's torn toe tendon is mending, and she may be able to vault, and freshman Kate Mohr may also return to the vault lineup after back soreness. Junior Gael Mackie is almost ready to return on bars after an ankle sprain.
With the four-ring-circus atmosphere of a quad meet, it may be a little more difficult for the Utes to relax this meet. But that's kind of the point, too. Marsden schedules a quad meet each year as a kind of rehearsal for the postseason, to get everybody used to the chaos.
This year, he happened to schedule three other teams that are quite competitive.
Oregon State ranks ahead of Utah and is 10-2 with a high score of 196.925, better than Utah's high, and two strong all-arounders in Mandi Rodriguez (39.55 high) and Makala Stambaugh (39.50), which rival the career highs of Bijak and fellow senior Jamie Deetscreek. Penn State, 13-4, has a high of 196.725 and owns a win over Michigan, which beat Utah three weeks ago. Marsden assumes the Nittany Lions are better than their ranking because scoring in the northeast is typically lower than some other regions.
"Everything I've heard, and what little of Penn State I've seen on video on the Internet, they look like a very good team to me also," he said.
"Southern Utah, the last couple of years, has gotten significantly better," Marsden said. "They're a dangerous team, and if they get on a roll, they'll beat you, especially if you have any problems at all."
The T-Birds have a high of 195.425 and are led by Elise Wheeler (39.55).
Oregon State, Penn State and Southern Utah at Utah
Today, 7 p.m.Heady
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company