After two years of missing the women's NCAA Championships by an eyelash - by .1 point last year - Utah State's gymnasts are determined for 1991.

"That just keeps blaring out in my face," says Coach Ray Corn about those near misses.And the team was so upset that six of the 10 returnees took one week off last spring, then voluntarily spent the rest of the offseason in the gym in Logan working to upgrade their difficulty.

Yes, they're missing the graduate Tana Davis, the Aggies' most decorated gymnast ever, holder of school all-around, beam and floor records and a two-time national qualifier.

But they retain Stephanie Green, who's had the school's second-best marks in all-around and floor and holds the school record on bars, plus NCAA qualifier Barb Zahl. Because of last summer's dedication, "It's a different Barb Zahl, a different look with a new bar and new beam routine," says Corn. "Same with Green and Brenda Scholl."

Unfortunately, Green will be out for a month with a third-degree ankle sprain.

Additionally, Julie Ryan is back after serving an LDS Church mission. She's several weeks away from top form yet, says Corn, but he counts on her to make a big contribution.

"Steph, Julie or Barb will have the ability to score mid-38s or higher in the all-around and could break Davis' record (38.9)," Corn says. All three are seniors.

Others back include senior Natalie Cannon, a three-event performer; possible all-arounders School, Michele Bugbee, Cami Card and Missy Edson; juniors Heidi Pfannenstiel and Michelle Godi; and sophomore vault/beam specialist Kim Johnson.

Corn also has five freshmen, all recruited to fill specific needs, particularly on bars and beam, where they're expected to rival the veterans at least. Several of the freshmen are injured to start the season, though.

The freshmen are Haley Houtchens of Colorado, Lori Lounder of Colorado, Tonja Ockaskis of Michigan, Shannon Fisher of Minnesota and local walk-on Heather Pitcher of nearby Cornish. Ockaskis is an all-arounder and four-year qualifier for the U.S. Gymnastics Federation's national championships but has a kneecap injury that will slow her this season.

Utah State had expected to join the Big West Conference after leaving the disbanded High Country Conference, but Big West schools waited too long to get organized and tabled the conference until next year. As a result, USU's an independent for '91. Without Green, the Aggies scored lower than expected in their first meet of the season Friday, falling 190.1-186.0 to fourth-ranked Oregon State. - Linda Hamilton