For a team that really wasn't ready with a couple of injured all-Americas already out, there was more bad news over the weekend when junior Michelle Hilse retired - the Lady Ute gymnasts came up with a decent show Monday night in the Huntsman Center.
They scored 187.60 in defeating Utah State (181.45) and Iowa (178.75) in the season opener for the two Utah teams.Over the last six years, the Utes have averaged 187.78 in season openers, but rarely have they had this much trouble getting a season going.
"A respectable score, pretty typical," said Ute Coach Greg Marsden. He was without Hilse, Jessica Smith and Kris Takahashi and got limited use of Kristi Pinnick, who tried to go all-around but couldn't less than a month after arthroscopic elbow surgery.
For Utah State and Iowa, the scores were disappointing, Iowa having hit 180.70 in a meet Saturday and Aggie Coach Ray Corn, with six good freshmen on his team, having dreamed of a 186 score in the Aggies' road opener. Then, Corn laughed at himself and added it was probably USU's best-ever opening-meet total.
Corn said that, with the errors the Aggies made, they came out of it fairly well, but he was disturbed at a loss of composure. The Aggies started poorly on bars and then suffered numerous beam falls while brooding about bars.
"The best thing that happened," said Corn, "was when they announced Iowa was ahead. It woke them up." USU came back with 46.65 on vault - .1 lower than Utah's vault score - to take second place away from Iowa, which came apart on beam, its last event.
Utah was never in danger of being behind, leading by nearly five points after two events and actually increasing it a little despite four beam falls.
For their final event, floor, Utah got cooking, counting nothing lower than 9.4 while freshman Shelly Schaerrer of Orem won the event with 9.65.
"I'm just glad floor was last, so I could really show it off and let it all out," said Schaerrer, who also won the all-around in this, her first collegiate meet, scoring 38.05.
Schaerrer said the crowd of 4,337 helped her. "It was the neatest thing to come out and have all those fans just right there. I've always been here and been in the crowd, and it's another thing to be down on the floor. It's incredible."
Her supporting cast wasn't bad, either.
"On the part of a lot of people," said Marsden, "it was a real neat effort. They could have rolled over and played dead."
He was speaking about performers like freshman Missy Marlowe, the Olympian who took her lumps personally to help the team; freshman Wendy Shelley, who had doubted herself but proved she belonged with high-class competition, despite having had flu for several days; and Pinnick, who succeeded in doing a 9.0 vault and 9.25 beam routine before succumbing to the sore elbow.
Also, senior Hilarie Portell tied her personal-best score on bars with 9.7, highest of the meet, and wound up with 9.6 on floor exercise; senior Sonja Ahone went all-around for the first time in college and threw her first college bars set, scoring 9.2; and sophomore Patti Massoels turned in a 37.65 for second all-around.
"I owe Missy an apology," said Marsden, noting how he threw her into an all-around role when she's trained for less than three weeks. After the Olympics in September, Marlowe didn't practice gymnastics, but through a special NCAA ruling she joined the Lady Utes in January though she hasn't yet graduated from high school.
"It put her in a position where it was going to be hard for her to succeed and be what people expected her to be," said Marsden. "I give her a lot of credit because she was trying to contribute in any way she could."
Marlowe's vault scored 9.25, but she fell off the bars, her favorite event. The Utes then went to beam, and Marlowe fell again. Still, Marlowe finished the beam strong and scored 9.5 in floor exercise to give her hometown fans something to cheer. "I had to salvage something on floor," she laughed.
Despite uncertainty, "I had a ball," Marlowe added.
Freshman Cami Card led the Aggies with a 36.70 all-around and 9.5 in vaulting. Iowa's best was 9.6 on bars by Michelle Cahal, who tied her own school record set Saturday, and a 36.20 all-around by Lori Cole.
Iowa was a late addition to what was originally scheduled as a U./USU dual meet. Coach Diane DeMarco asked to be included because, "To be the best, you have to compete with the best, and I thought we were ready."