If Ute senior Ashley Postell can remain healthy into the 2008 postseason in April in gymnastics that's always a big if she can enter her final NCAA regional and national competitions as one of the most decorated athletes in Utah's long and impressive history in the sport.
Driven by a need for personal perfection but mellowing just a bit, she already holds the school mark for career all-around wins with 26.
Over the next few meets, Postell (102) will likely surpass Theresa Kulikowski's record of 112 career event/all-around victories, and four other marks by Kulikowski and Suzanne Metz are attainable for her. In the postseason, Postell could reach another two records.
"She's probably the most gifted athlete I've ever had the pleasure of coaching," said Ute coach Greg Marsden, who's guided all the Utah greats.
Though Postell is so close to so many records, she's avoided acknowledging any of it.
"Like the school record?," she said when asked about being on the threshold of beating Kulikowski's 112 career wins. It's been mentioned in newspapers and Ute news releases for weeks, but Postell paid no notice. "Just like the most wins? That's cool. I didn't know, and I don't really think about it, but it's nice to know I could kind of be in history."
"I think if she worried about that, she wouldn't do as well," said junior Nina Kim, who's been friends with Postell since they were 12 and 13, even though at first Kim was intimidated by how good Postell was. "Ashley is talented, and she works hard and she gets what she deserves."
Postell says she never really worked at being a different person this year. "I just want to do good in my senior year and not put any pressure on myself," she said, claiming no personal agenda for her last two months. "Most of my goals are just dealing with the team, and that all of us together can compete good, and we come out with a win at the end of the season. I don't have any personal goals, just because I don't need to worry about that."
That's a different from her freshman year when the six-year member of the U.S. national team, the 2002 world balance beam champion, arrived on campus knowing only about competing for herself. "I was having a hard time getting used to the idea of a team and it not being all about me because that's how elite is," she said.
Bigger changes have come over the last year.
Postell righted herself for the 2007 NCAA postseason after stressing out much of the '07 regular season, having five falls and not much fun in the gym. It was a hard year for the entire team, divided by cliques, dragged down by injuries. Like Postell, the group got it together for the postseason to finish No. 2 in the NCAA Championships on their home floor while Postell won the beam title and was second all-around.
Though still a private person who often doesn't discuss even her gymnastics problems with the coaches and give them a chance to help her, she has brightened considerably since 2007.
"I think the end of last season into this year, she's learned how to laugh at herself and laugh at her mistakes and know that things will come around," said senior Jessica Duke.
Duke calls Postell a major perfectionist, to which Postell readily admits. But, says Duke, "This year, she'll fall on beam 50 times in warmup, and she's like, 'Just kidding!' She's like, 'Psych!'
"She inspires me," said Duke.
"This year it's a little different," said Kim. "She's kind of shown herself as a leader, and I've never seen that side of her. I think that's pretty amazing how she's come out this year."
"I've seen her do some things this year that, in her own quiet way, have shown a lot of leadership," Marsden said. "That just wouldn't have been Ashley a couple years ago."
Marsden had worried Postell's senior year could be troubled. Instead, "She's really relaxed and doesn't seem to be overly concerned about anything other than going out and doing her job," he said.
Those around her don't know how she changed. "I don't think she really needs reasons," Kim said. "I think she just felt like she finally could, like it was kind of time for her to be a leader. I think she's just gotten older and matured, and she's a different, grown-up Ashley."
"It's mainly just different," said Postell, "because it's my senior year, and I don't want to mess up too bad because I put too much pressure on myself. Sometimes when I try too hard, I mess up more than I probably would have if I didn't."
Postell's 18-month relationship with former Real Salt Lake forward Jamie Watson has been a good influence, too. "Me as a person, it's helped me out. I know I've grown up, and things matter to me much more than before, like school and stuff. I've done better in school. He's just had a positive impact on me, and I think the same for him.
"Greg and Megan (associate head coach Megan Marsden) agree he's a good guy for me."
The silent type
Postell, from Burke, Va., grew up in home-schooling so she could concentrate on gymnastics at a top club. That was fortunate for Utah because she had planned to go to UCLA, but the NCAA didn't get around to clearing her home-school credentials quickly, and the Bruins decided to go another direction, with coach Valorie Kondos-Field pointing Postell to Utah, which had an available scholarship.
Her rigid club training helped make her the silent type. "Ever since I was little, I was very competitive and had a strong personality, so it's partially me," she says, "but growing up like that didn't help the situation, and I can't talk to (those) coaches like I can talk to Greg and Megan and Jeff (Graba, assistant coach). That's just kind of the way it was. Club is just a lot different than college.
"I'm not going to say they weren't willing to help out, just here they're more open to different ideas. At home it's pretty strict; it's kind of one way."
Postell trained even when hurt in club. "Unless you broke something, you didn't really have much of an alternative, especially if you had a meet coming up," she said. "I think that's another reason why I keep things in, because at home, that's just what we did."
She has told Greg Marsden she appreciates being treated like an adult at Utah, helping to make choices, but she is still guarded. "It has made it hard at times to coach her," he said, "because you don't know what the issue is because she doesn't want to talk about it." The coaches sometimes go to teammates or Postell's mother, with whom she's very close, to try to understand.
"If you're talking about fun, non-meaningful stuff, she can be fun and bubbly," Marsden says, "but if you're talking about serious stuff, she doesn't open up and share very much about what she's feeling,."
"Sometimes I just don't want to talk about it, but I grew up like that, too," she says. "I don't think it's a bad thing. If people try to talk to me about it, sometimes it might get worse.
"I don't think I really mind being like that. Sometimes I just like to deal with my problems myself.
"Outside the gym I've always been upbeat. I wouldn't necessarily say I take how I am in the gym outside of the gym."
"You can't knock her on what she's doing because it seems to work for her," said Megan Marsden.
Postell would never have dared in club to joke around in the gym, but in her first month as a Ute freshman, she was already giving Greg Marsden the business.
"She did a tumbling pass," his wife recalls, "and he made some comment, and as she walked by him, she poked him in the tummy. And then she kept going: 'Whoa, my finger went in a long way.' Freshmen don't typically deal with Greg quite like that."
She can make him laugh in tense times, and Megan says she's the only one who ever dared call him by his first name, Stephen. "She has definitely personalized her time with us."
"I'm me," Postell says with a laugh about her many personality traits. "It's what you're going to get."I'm pretty happy how I'm doing, whether I've won stuff or not," Postell added. "Happy that I can be more relaxed and be a better teammate and not let things get to me as much as I have before."