The first week freshman Shelly Schaerrer spent as part of the Lady Ute gymnastics team, she was dancing around in practice and senior Sonja Ahone told her, "Don't do that. You look just like Lisa Mitzel. It scares me."
Coach Greg Marsden, too, suddenly noticed Schaerrer's resemblance to Mitzel, the 1986 Utah graduate who was one of the top two or three gymnasts ever for the Utes, who won four of their six straight national championships with her in the lineup.Marsden has known Schaerrer for years, since she trained at Orem's All-American club with Brad Cattermole, now BYU coach,
but she was younger then. The resemblance really hit Marsden this fall after she'd spent two years training with ex-national coach Don Peters at Southern California Acro Team (SCATS).
"It was almost scary how many similarities there were," says Marsden. "Just in the way she carried herself, the way she dances, her mood patterns, body type."
The comparisons have been made before, says Schaerrer. When SCATS had meets at KIPS, Mitzel's old California club, "I'd walk into KIPS, and they'd say the same thing.
"I kind of like it," says Schaerrer, who scored Mitzel-like totals in her first two college meets - 38.05 and 38.10. The highest scores in Ute history are 38.85, 38.65 and Mitzel's 1986 38.60, and Schaerrer came fairly close with watered-down routines necessitated by fall surgery to remove half the meniscus cartilage in her right knee. She's also had two ankle surgeries in two years.
She's not at all intimidated about comparison to a Ute legend. "Lisa was a great gymnast. I hope I can live up to it," she says.
"It's my impression of Shelly that she's not going to be awed by much," Marsden says.
His toughest assignment is to hold her back enough to let the bad knee catch up. "She's her own worst enemy because she's so aggressive," he says. He makes her exhibit consistency before allowing progression to the big tricks she wants to do.
That's how last Monday's disputed floor exercise routine happened in the meet against Arizona State. ASU Coach John Spini complained about home judging and used her routine as an example, noting she did a full-twist tumbling mount and the same thing for a dismount. It's a deduction to do the same tumbling pass twice.
Schaerrer says she and Marsden talked about a double-back somersault to open, but since the meet was already decided, she was to do an easier double twist instead. She hadn't warmed up with that skill, made a mistake and did a single twist. "I wasn't thinking," she says, saying she didn't deserve the 9.65 she was awarded. Marsden took it as justice since he thought she was underscored for a "world-class" routine on bars.
It was not the same thing, she said, as the tendency she used to have "to crack under pressure." That's one reputation she hopes to outgrow in college. "Even if the difficulty is not the same, I'd like to stay level-headed under pressure," Schaerrer says.
It is one goal she's sure of. Others are more vague, since she's so new at college gymnastics.
As a kid, she attended Ute meets and was impressed with the spectacle. She saw many college performers, but not with the eye of a competitor, so she doesn't know where she'll fit in.
Nor does Marsden. He says Schaerrer is a gymnast of Olympian/Ute Missy Marlowe's caliber, and he says the friendly rivalry between the two freshmen is good for both, but no one can say how far either will take her college career.
Schaerrer never had the pre-college success Marlowe did. The whole two years she spent training with Peters, she was injured.
"She had a tragic career," Marsden says. "When she should have been at her best, she had injuries. It was pretty devastating. She wanted to make the Olympic team."
It was so frustrating Schaerrer quit gymnastics until she started getting college offers and realized she could still make a contribution.
Says Marsden, "She's unfulfilled. She feels challenged to get from her collegiate career what she wasn't able to accomplish in USGF.
"If we can keep her healthy," he says, "she can be a contender."