Someone asked Utah State gymnastics coach Ray Corn Wednesday night after the Aggie 192.4-190.8 loss to No. 1 Utah if that was the best his team has looked in floor exercise.

Corn said no.Then he asked what the score was for the event. It was 48.6. "A school record; yes, it is," he had to admit.

That points up a few differences in Aggie gymnastics, past and present.

The Aggies of old always sweated scores. They had to. They were always, as Corn says, "on the bubble" between making it in postseason action and not.

They're beyond that now, ranked sixth in the country according to the newest ratings and likely to move up again with that 190.8, third-best in USU history.

Now the Aggies can look at an event and tell how good they were, not by scores, not by whether they had to count falls, but by how professional and crisp they looked and felt.

"Who cares if we hit; it's got to be perfect," says senior all-arounder Barb Zahl, who tied her career high with 9.8 on floor.

Now they stay within themselves during meets, concentrating only on the event at hand, not on scores or what others are doing. It's something Corn instituted this season, "and, by golly, I think it's working," he says.

In other words, they've gotten to the point where they can start using one of Utah's most-effective weapons: mental toughness.

"It has a lot to do with the attitude in the gym," says Zahl, who noted that the Aggies seemed to have a capability Wednesday to pick each other up - when one had an unexpected mistake, someone else came through. Zahl and Brenda Scholl, two experienced team members, each had falls, but they didn't precipitate more problems.

"I don't think we're necessarily better gymnasts," says Zahl, reflecting on past teams.

Corn agrees. In terms of scoring potential, he says it's his best team, "but in terms of ability and difficulty, no; I've had tougher teams, but we didn't do what we do now.

"Now we look like we belong in the top 10," Corn says.

Utah has had that look for about 13 years, and even if Wednesday's total was the Utes' lowest in 11 months - since the last time they were in the Spectrum, in fact - coach Greg Marsden said he had no problems with the meet.

Until the balance beam, Utah's final event.

The Utes had three falls in a row from beam and had to count two of them, meaning they lost one point off their score just on falls. That point would have put them right back up to where they've been scoring the past few weeks, Marsden noted - 193.4.

"We hit the first three events as well as we have for two or three weeks," he said. The beam falls were a snowball effect, he added. Freshman Missy Wells, who's been troubled by back spasms, had a fall. Shelly Schaerrer was working the best she had all year until she went for her roundoff dismount and missed, landing on the floor on her neck. "Then Jessica (Smith) came up after that ugly fall that was really scary," Marsden said.

"I just misjudged it a little," said Schaerrer. "I was a little off, but I thought I could save it." She was knocked out for a few seconds. She tried to get back on to regain points for a dismount, but Marsden wouldn't let her.

Schaerrer had just scored a Spectrum-record 9.9 on floor exercise, tying her career high, and her beam fall followed the pattern Missy Marlowe set. Marlowe set a Spectrum record with 9.9 on uneven bars, then fell and bounced out of bounds on her second floor-exercise double-back.

Ute sophomore Kristen Kenoyer and Aggie junior Michele Bugbee were the only all-arounders who didn't fall, and they led their teams. Kenoyer scored 38.75 with a 9.8 on floor to nudge Marlowe (38.7) for all-around honors, and Bugbee (38.05, including a career-high 9.7 on floor) was fourth in the all-around but first on her team. "I think I just performed to my ability," said Bugbee.

Bugbee and Zahl each figured the Logan crowd had something to do with their personal-best floor scores that helped the Aggies set a record. "I was relaxed and performed to the audience," Bugbee said. Said Zahl, "The crowd had a lot to do with it; they were supportive." And the crowd would have gotten nasty, "If they'd given me much lower," Zahl said, laughing.

Kenoyer said she was just trying to get back to form after two falls the past two weeks.

It's been difficult for Utah to maintain its elite level because it's had three meets - and only three practices - in 10 days. "Three meets takes a little toll because you don't get enough workout time," said Schaerrer (38.25).

Marsden says next year he will cut back regular-season meets, from the 10 of this year to eight.

Kenoyer was less certain of the problem. "It seems like it always goes like this. We start really high, and then we've got to have a dip so we can come back up," she said.