BYU has never been on the competition floor the night the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championship was decided. Its best NCAA finish was eighth in 1991.

But this 1998 Cougar team seems to have a mental edge on all its predecessors.That's partly because of senior Angela Andersen's strong leadership, partly because of some savvy freshmen and partly because the Cougs have done more work than before in the sports psychology area that has helped make Utah a national power for 20 years.

"We're better mentally prepared than before," says coach Brad Cattermole.

With a relatively young team, that could go south Thursday afternoon when BYU engages in the afternoon session of the 1998 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships at UCLA, hoping to be one of three teams from that preliminary session to advance to Friday night's Super Six team championships.

But in its two highest-pressure meets, the regular-season finale when it hosted and beat Utah for the first time and the April 4 Midwest Regional at Tempe, Ariz., BYU had its two best scores (196.050, 195.50). It also had strong balance-beam performances in those meets, an indicator of mental strength.

In practices lately, BYU has worked on cleaning up little form breaks; if you're polishing, you're hitting. Cattermole has spent time creating a raucous atmosphere with loud music blaring, hoping to simulate the commotion of nationals, and he's discussed with his team some of the unexpecteds, like competing on a floor that's stiff because BYU will be the first team to use the new floor in competition.

After a spate of early season-ending injuries, the Cougs are in good shape and will use the same lineup they did at the regional, which should have Andersen (39.45 best), junior Natalie Emig and freshman Kelly Christensen going all-around. Others likely to compete include Hilary Johnson, Jessica Nelson, Kim Little, Janene Lay, Denise Pauga and Marisa Cosgrave.

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Additional Information

Who's there

Thursday, 2 p.m. MDT, odd seeds

Regional Season '97 NCAA At-large

Seed, team score rank finish all-arounder

1. Georgia 198.575 1 3 Heather Brink, Nebraska

3. Alabama 196.500 5 9 Christy Denson, Utah St.

5. Michigan 196.000 2 4 Kara Fry, Arizona

7. BYU 195.500 12 - Ashley Burkholder, Kentucky

9. NC St. 195.125 20 - Tenli Poggemeyer, Arizona

11. Ariz.St. 195.025 9 2 Megan Murphy, Oregon St.

Thursday, 8:30 p.m. MDT, even seeds

2. Florida 197.075 4 5 Lindsey Vagedes, Ohio St.

4. Washington 196.150 7 8 Susan Eckman, Ohio St.

6. UTAH 195.575 3 7 Diane Loosli, Boise St.

8. LSU 195.250 8 12 Johanna Evans, Boise St.

10. UCLA 195.100 13 1 Mindy Farmer, Ohio St.

12. Penn St. 194.600 18 11 Sandy Menard, N. Illinois