Every year in early March, judges who will be meet referees for the six NCAA women's gymnastics regionals in April get together via teleconference and clarify the way postseason routines will be judged.

Then they send out letters to coaches letting them know specific things they'll expect.

This year's clarifications, received by coaches last Friday, lit a little extra fire in the Ute camp.

No. 2-ranked Utah, which is at No. 3 Florida Friday night for its final road meet of the regular season, has made a number of changes in its floor exercise routines over the season, tweaking first and last passes to ensure the highest degree of difficulty to comply with the new code of points for this season.

As they upgraded first and last passes, several gymnasts did lighter middle passes under the impression that, since they got bonus points for connecting two "B" level skills, they were fulfilling requirements. Gritt Hofmann, Ashley Postell and Nicolle Ford have always planned on upgrading their middle passes once they perfected the other two.

The clarification, however, says judges will take compositional deductions for any pass not containing at least a "C" skill, even though connected "Bs" are bonus. Passes don't have to have bonuses, just "Cs," said Ute associate head coach Megan Marsden.

This adds urgency to Utah's upgrades, and they began on them in earnest in practice Sunday, knowing they have only two regular-season meets left to compete the upgraded passes and learn how judges will accept them, Marsden said.

A couple of Utes also changed some of their floor routines three weeks ago because a judge said she preferred a balance of dance and acrobatic skills rather than an acro-heavy routine.

Recently Utah, known for its finesse and clean lines, has recruited more power gymnasts to elevate its tumbling.

"We know that tumbling has been a weakness of ours in the past up against the other top teams," said Megan Marsden. "This year one of our goals was to set about addressing that. We felt that it was important to do that in a progressive manner." She said her husband, head coach Greg Marsden, didn't want athletes "pushing the envelope" every week for 14 weeks, so it's been a gradual process.

Greg Marsden is, however, allowing power athletes like Postell to make more errors while perfecting big-skill routines. Postell had a preseason elbow injury that kept her from training until the season started, so she's had to get back into competitive shape on the job.

With falls and some unexpected deductions from judges like the one who wanted dance/acro balance, the Utes this week found themselves in an unaccustomed spot — shut out of the individual floor rankings and standing ninth nationally as a team in that event. They were 12th last week in floor but had an individual ranked.

They're not used to that, but they're taking it in stride.

"In our process of getting where we ultimately want to be," said Megan Marsden, "it's cost us some consistency, and it's also cost us some high scores with some routines that didn't have tumbling that we ultimately plan to use.

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"It's because we've had some inconsistencies," Greg Marsden said. "Ashley went through that (falling) spell, otherwise I think she could be there." Nicolle Ford and Kristina Baskett "have been off and on" and Hofmann has stepped out of bounds a time or two for deductions.

"Those four people are very competitive on floor with anybody, and it's just a matter of being more consistent and cleaner," Marsden said.

Nina Kim is also working on an upgrade to her routine. "We're just as good as the other teams, just we're not doing it all just yet," she said. "We're still working on it."

She said she's upgrading because she wants to, and so are others.

"As long as I can hit it and score big, why not?" said Hofmann.

E-mail: lham@desnews.com