For the most part, Utah senior gymnast Kristen Riffanacht has hit her beam routines this season, scoring mostly in the 9.7s or 9.8s as one of the Utes' first people up.
Coach Greg Marsden did not use Riffanacht on beam at the NCAA regional at Michigan April 8.
Now he will return her to a bigger role at the biggest meet of the year.
This is the week of the 2006 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships at Oregon State University in Corvallis, and Marsden plans to use Riffanacht as the all-important leadoff person on beam the Utes' first event when they compete in the team preliminaries Thursday starting at 2 p.m. MDT.
The Utes were to fly out this morning. Press conferences and practices will be held Thursday at Gill Coliseum, with competition Thursday (team preliminaries, individual all-around finals), Friday (Super Six team championship) and Saturday (individual event finals).
Two weeks ago, Riffanacht hadn't trained well in the days leading up to the regional, so Marsden didn't use her on beam then. "I felt like if Kristina (Baskett) hit her routine, there was the potential for a better score.
"The key word there is 'hit routine.'"
Baskett had a fall on beam that put Utah's postseason future at risk.
Now Riffanacht is the one change Marsden plans to make in his lineup. "'Riffy' has done a great job of hitting routines, and she's training well," he explained.
He said he would decide following Wednesday's practice in Corvallis whether it will be senior Gabi Onodi or freshman Baskett who will be second up on beam, Utah's first event when it opens the team preliminaries Thursday. The other one will be out of that event. Both Onodi and Baskett had falls at the regional. Baskett would go all-around if she remains in the beam lineup.
Riffanacht was Utah's first competitor at the regional, first up on floor, and now she'll be its first competitor at the championships on beam.
"That's my job, it's my role on the team," she said. "I look forward to the challenge."
If she does her job well, it could lead to one more meet for the senior. The top three teams from the afternoon and evening sessions Thursday get an encore performance Friday night at the Super Six team championships, meaning Riffy could perform a couple more times before she exhausts her collegiate eligibility. "Exactly," she said, "but hopefully I won't let that cross my mind too much until I'm done."
The leadoff role is critical. "If your first person doesn't hit, then you're playing defense," said Marsden. "You've just got to go up and be aggressive, but it's really hard to do when you know the first person in your lineup has missed.
"It's important in order to get things started on a positive note and for them to do as well as they can so we can build on that."
POSTELL BACK: Sophomore Ashley Postell was back at practice Monday after being told to leave Friday's practice by Marsden because her difficult attitude was bringing the team down. Marsden has used the same discipline on many gymnasts over the years, and Postell was kicked out of a practice last year, too.
"It's not good for the team. It's just what had to be done that day. Everyone has their bad days," Postell said Monday, miffed that the incident had been reported in the media because normally such things go unnoticed.
"I wish I hadn't (been kicked out) because we don't have many days before nationals. I have today (to train)," she said Monday. "I already had enough to worry about at the time." She did not dispute Marsden's judgment. "He had good reason to," she said, adding she felt "just peachy" Monday. "I'm good to go."
Marsden spied Postell as she entered the gym and called out, in fun, "Ashley, I still recognize you."
Postell won five NCAA All-American certificates as a freshman and had the best all-around score of the afternoon session at the 2005 NCAA finals at Auburn. But scores tend to escalate in evening sessions, and it's very hard for a gymnast to win the national championship in that event from the afternoon session. Postell's 39.575 was third.
As a freshman, she wasn't sure exactly how things worked at nationals and didn't realize the all-around title was decided on the first day.
"It's not the most important thing. Our main focus is team competition. As long as we make it into Super Six, that's what really matters."BUSY, BUSY: Gymnasts are not only trying to be ready for nationals, they've got academic finals the week they get back and have to be out of their dorm rooms soon after that, so they're busy trying to deal with the rest of their lives as well this week, Marsden said.