Utah's Shelly Schaerrer finished last season on a personal high. The NCAA women's gymnastics team championship came down to her floor exercise routine, and her 9.85 let the U. defeat Alabama by .325 point for the title. The event score gave her a school-record 39.225 and second place in the NCAA all-around. The next night, she was second in two individual events.
As she started her junior year, Schaerrer had the gnawing feeling she had to immediately live up to her sophomore spring. In her first meet a week ago, she had two falls on beam. Nerves were a problem.In her second meet, Monday night against BYU in the Huntsman Center, Schaerrer came back to form.
Schaerrer and fellow junior Missy Marlowe tied for the all-around title with 39.2s, both tying the school bars record of 9.9, in leading No. 1 Utah to its third-best score ever, 194.55.
It was Marlowe's best all-around score as a collegian, though she did more as an Olympian. "I'm thrilled with tonight," she said.
But it was Schaerrer's breakthrough. "I was real down in the dumps after what happened last week," she said. "I had to redeem myself."
The Cougars totaled 188.25, wading through a teamwide respiratory illness that showed most in three falls on bars. "That's a great score for us starting out the season," said Coach Brad Cattermole. "I'm really happy with the kids because they're fighters. They've got some heart."
BYU won one victory Monday. Its new leotards drew the kind of attention that Utah's day-glo pinks did last year at the NCAAs. BYU unveiled black wet-look lycra outfits that looked like leather with silver sequins and cut-out shoulders. Cattermole picked them up on the way to the meet. "We felt like we needed something to get BYU in the game. The kids feel good competing in them," he said, following Utah Coach Greg Marsden's philosophy that much of gymnastics is aesthetic and looking good translates into performing well.
For Utah, which had new red uniforms, getting Schaerrer back in sorts was important with Friday's meet at No. 2 Georgia coming up fast. Marsden wanted to tone her emotions down in her last few practices. "I had to try to back Shelly off. She was feeling pressure, like she has to re-prove herself," he said.
He told Schaerrer, and the team, that if they try to live up to last year, they'll burn out quickly. "You've got to let it be fun," he says.
Schaerrer said Marlowe helped, too. Before a Schaerrer's beam routine, Marlowe said to take events one at a time. "I told her, `All you can do is be aggressive,' and she said, `You're right,"' said Marlowe.
Marlowe might have had the school all-around record to herself had her beam score been higher. She got 9.65 for a routine she and Marsden both said was better than the 9.7 she performed last week. He protested to no avail.
Marlowe said judges told her beam coach, Megan Marsden, that the routine only started with 9.9 because the Utes overvalued one element. Marlowe said it won't be an issue much longer because she'll put in a double-full twisting dismount that will pick up the extra value at Georgia or the next meet. Besides, she was too happy with her personal-record vault (9.8) to worry about beam.
The Utes' other 39+ all-arounder, Kristen Kenoyer, was used only on bars (9.8) and beam (9.85), making the team total more striking. Marsden held her out because of ankle tendinitis - Friday's meet at Georgia will be on a hard surface, and he wants her ready.
While he has three of the country's top all-arounders, Marsden's hoping senior Jessica Smith, freshman Missy Wells or sophomore Tracy Richard will soon rival Schaerrer, Marlowe and Kenoyer like Kristi Pinnick did in '90.
Smith scored a career-high 38.7 Monday, good enough to be tops on most teams but not as notable at Utah. She's never missed at nationals and throws a unique full-twisting reverse Hecht release on bars but hasn't challenged the big three. "I need the other kids to not be willing to take a second seat," Marsden said.
BYU was led by senior Marianne Squires with 38.1. Junior Korie Jackman, returning from ankle-tendon problems, scored the Y.'s best, 9.75, on beam. It's her career best. Squires had 9.7 on beam, and freshman Christy McAdams, who was sick enough Cattermole wouldn't have used her against anybody else, vaulted to 9.7.