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Gymnastics: Wheeler ready to go all out without a team

Published: Thursday, April 16 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

LINCOLN, Neb. — Southern Utah junior Elise Wheeler has no team to worry about, just herself, as she readies herself for competition tonight in the 2009 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships at the University of Nebraska.

She's in today's all-around competition and could qualify for Saturday's events finals if she finishes in the top four plus ties in her competition session.

With no team to worry about, Wheeler, the only SUU gymnast to have ever qualified for nationals more than once and making her second straight appearance, said she's ready to go all-out to represent the school.

"I don't feel like I have a lot to lose," she said. "I'm here for myself, and I'm here to represent my school. I'm going to go with my big skills. I have to go up to the level of competition, with all the great athletes here.

"I've got to throw it all out there to be competitive, and that's what we're planning on doing."

The North Central Region gymnast of the year and WAC all-around champion has upgraded on bars, floor and beam since the regional less than two weeks ago. Coach Scott Bauman had asked her to water back her routines during the season because the team had become inconsistent, but now, there's nothing holding her back. She has a different bars release, different floor passes and added a "flipping element" on beam, Bauman said.

Wheeler said her experience last year, when she rotated with four-time national champion Georgia, was, "A wonderful one. Just the entire meet was a fun experience. It wasn't stressful. I had a great time. I walked away with no regrets and hope to do the same this year."Wheeler said that though it's lonely without her team being here — which she hopes to change next year — she does feel like she belongs with this field. " I don't feel out of place at all. I feel very welcome. I don't feel intimidated by anyone.

NO PODIUM NO PROBLEM: Utah coach Greg Marsden apparently created a misunderstanding a few years ago when he mentioned that the most successful team in NCAA women's gymnastics history might not ever get to host the national championships again because the Huntsman Center doesn't have room to fit in a podium.

There was discussion at the time to require a podium — an elevated platform that provides better audience sightlines and a lighter feel for the gymnasts — but Marsden said Wednesday that the idea was never acted upon, and so it is possible, barring a future ruling, for schools that can't accommodate podiums to host nationals.

He said it might be difficult to require the podium because it rules out several top schools and because the NCAA men use it, too, and it can't be at two championships at one time.

UTAH HOSTING AGAIN?: That doesn't mean Marsden will bid on holding nationals at Utah for a while. Utah has hosted it eight times since the NCAA took over and hosted once under AIAW rule.

But Marsden is trying to get the NCAA to change the way the meet is structured because he thinks a 12-team competition takes too long, and with byes and some teams having completed two or three events while others have only completed one or two, it's kind of hard for people who aren't long-time fans to comprehend who's winning.

Marsden would like to see eight teams make the finals, making for two four-team sessions.

He also said the NCAA made Utah turn off the scoreboard with 20 minutes left in the meet, meaning the crowd had no clue about who was winning. That's not good for growing the sport, in his opinion.

There was no such suspense last year at Georgia. The Gym Dogs began publicly celebrating their title before the meet was over, while other teams were still competing.

CLEVELAND?: Something else Marsden wasn't sure about was the awarding of the 2011 championships to Cleveland, which has no big women's gymnastics teams nearby. He wonders what attendance will be in a big city with no allegiance to the sport. Even Nebraska, with a team that's usually among the top six but didn't qualify this year, is struggling to find an audience.

Marsden said the NCAA awarded Cleveland the championships, apparently as part of a package of championships, without letting coaches know about it. "Unbeknownst to all of us, it was just announced," he said. "None of us knew that this was going down."

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