Until 2006, the University of Utah's gymnastics team had never started its season with back-to-back road meets.

In fact, now in its 31st season, Utah has started its season on the road only six other times, including twice in Logan and once in Provo, and each of those times, the next meet was at home.

No wonder Ute co-captain Nicolle Ford says, "We've been anxious" about finally competing at home.

"Everyone is looking forward to it," agrees coach Greg Marsden, whose 2-0, third-ranked Utes make their 2006 home debut tonight at 7 in the Huntsman Center against sixth-ranked, 4-1-1 Nebraska and the nation's top-ranked all-arounder, sophomore Emily Parson, who has a 39.425 average.

The Cornhuskers are coming off a rare regular-season tie against now-second-ranked Michigan, each team scoring 195.675 in Lincoln last week. That's a touch above Utah's high score of 195.625 produced Saturday at Washington.

Ford said it may be good that Utah had two road meets, just to work out the kinks of a long holiday layoff before showing the home fans what they've got. It allowed freshmen Nina Kim and Kristina Baskett to get used to college competition before they debut in front of Utah's huge home audience.

Kim and Baskett have already faced the pressure of competing at UCLA, one of the nation's top programs the past 13 years, and Baskett was performing in front of many family members and friends at home in Washington last week.

But that was nothing like standing on the Huntsman Center floor, Ford says, and even watching a meet while on recruiting visits didn't give them the feel they'll get tonight.

"They've both seen it from the stands, but the view from down on the floor is a little bit different," Ford said.

"I just told them that it's going to be a lot of fun. There's going to be 10,000 people in the stands.

"You kind of forget there's a meet going on," said Ford. "It's more like a show, having everybody cheer for you and it being so loud."

It's one of the big reasons Baskett signed with the Utes, and most of them like the attention, even if it's awing at first. "Kristina is definitely another big-crowd girl," Ford noted.

Marsden's hoping the youngsters do take to the commotion as his team has some problems to work through after several falls in the first two meets. "I guarantee you we can't count a fall against Nebraska (and win)," he said.

Ford has a sore wrist that is puzzling doctors, and she can compete as long as she can take the pain. Senior Kristen Riffanacht and sophomore Ashley Postell are both trying to round into shape after preseason injuries robbed them of training time.

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And Kim, who took last year off to cope with burnout, has been brilliant most of the time, twice performing well on beam after teammates fell in front of her. But she has also fallen on both of her floor routines so far.

Marsden is not overly concerned yet about either Kim or Postell, who had trouble on bars in both meets, but they do need to reverse the trend. "It gets into your head, and you start trying too hard," he said. "They were both very emotional after those misses" at Washington.

Postell, a former world champion beam walker has to "right the ship, or we're going down fast," Marsden said.

"The talent's there," said Ford. "It's just a matter of getting more consistent. It's still early. We just need more meets, more experience for (the freshmen). We have the potential to do big things, so that's the plan."

E-mail: lham@desnews.com