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Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Kristen Riffanacht is congratulated by her Utah teammates after her floor routine Friday. Utah has now won two regular-season openers in a row against the Bruins.

The trick will be to do this in April at Auburn.

For now, though, exacting revenge on No. 1-ranked and two-time defending NCAA champion UCLA at the Huntsman Center, with the ninth-best score in Utah gymnastics history, 197.675-197.300, feels pretty good.

"(It's) a little stepping stone to what we want to do," said Utah co-captain Annabeth Eberle, a senior who tied with her freshman teammate Ashley Postell for the all-around victory Friday night with 39.625s to 39.575 for UCLA freshman Tasha Schwikert and 39.475 for Ute sophomore Nicolle Ford.

"I think it's sweet right now, but tomorrow we have to look forward to Utah State," Eberle said.

Utah is at USU next Friday.

"It's always more fun to win," said Ute coach Greg Marsden, whose team is celebrating 30 years of existence with this season.

Utah has now won two regular-season openers in a row against the Bruins, taking last year's at Pauley Pavilion, and now this one in a seesaw meet that saw UCLA in the lead after two events.

But the Bruins have won the past two postseasons against Utah and everyone else, and they were the team that two years ago broke Utah's NCAA record of 170 straight home regular-season wins, which spanned 23 years. It was the only time UCLA ever won in the Huntsman Center.

"You're on the competitive floor, you want to win," said Bruin coach Valorie Kondos Field, whose team is known for its slow starts and terrific season finishes. "I was thrilled to see our freshmen compete so well. I really didn't know what they were going to do. I expected them to be more wobbly and to want it so badly they make mistakes."

Her freshmen are the Schwikert sisters, Tasha and Jordan, from Las Vegas, and Lindsey VandenEykel of Plano, Texas. Tasha Schwikert was a 2000 U.S. Olympian and an alternate for the 2004 team. Jordan Schwikert was competing all-around despite having titanium threads holding her spine together for a problem that likely kept her out of big-time international competition when she was younger.

Utah's freshmen were Postell and Katie Kivisto, who scored 9.825 on her only event, bars.

Postell, the 2002 world balance beam champion who was likely kept out of the 2004 Olympics by illness and a shoulder injury after being on two U.S. world championships teams, said being in a college meet for the first time was nerve-wracking because it's all for the team and not an individual sport the way it is in most international competition.

"To start on vault, I was a little nervous. I was actually pretty scared the whole competition," she said with a laugh.

Marsden could see her nerves working. "I was a little surprised," he said. "This is a new experience for her, even though she has accomplished so much.

"But if that's her nervous, I think we'll be OK."

Said Postell: "I didn't expect much of it, and I wasn't sure of how college would be. I was pretty shocked."

Postell nearly went to UCLA but had NCAA clearinghouse difficulties as she was home-schooled and wound up making a recruiting visit to Utah on Halloween 2003, so she never saw a meet and the Ute crowd.

Friday's attendance was 10,064, seven more than the highest men's basketball crowd of the season so far.

"It's awesome how the crowd interacts with us," she said.

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For Marsden, the meet between college gymnastics two strongest programs, with 15 national titles between them, 10 by Utah, was "exactly what you expected. Both teams had some wonderful, almost flawless, performances and some that were not.

"What I wanted is for them to be comfortable and aggressive and not necessarily try to be perfect" in this season opener, Marsden said.

"It was an almost ideal first meet from a coach's standpoint. We did well enough to win, but things can get better."

Sophomore Rachel Tidd, who missed nationals last spring with mononucleosis, did two events but has back spasms. "I need her back in the other two events. She was almost perfect on the two events she did," Marsden said. She had 9.95s on bars and vault in a meet Marsden had thought about benching her until she made a fuss.

E-mail: lham@desnews.com