MINNEAPOLIS The most difficult day of the season is over for the Utah gymnastics team, and its record for qualifying for the national gymnastics championships remains a perfect 33-for-33, even if the Utes were hardly perfect in easily winning Saturday's NCAA North Central Regional at the University of Minnesota.
"I know we weren't spectacular in some places," said Ute coach Greg Marsden, whose club advanced by scoring 196.95 to second-place Arkansas's 196.125, "but I like this team because they battle.
"We easily could have had two or three falls on bars (Utah's first event Saturday), and they just covered and went on and made up new things and continued on. As a coach, you've got to like that.
"No, you don't like to start a meet like that, but for the most part we got better as the meet went on and vault was fantastic," Marsden said of the Utes' final event, on which they scored 49.40. Marsden said he didn't think the vault team could have done any better.
"Hopefully we'll peak at the right time," said Marsden, with an eye on April 24-26 and the 2008 NCAA Championships at Georgia.
Georgia was the highest-scoring team in the six regional meets around the country.
The top two teams from each regional advance to nationals in a little less than two weeks.
Other scores in Saturday's North Central Regional were Minnesota 195.275, Arizona 194.27, Southern Utah 194.050 and Iowa 193.875.
Georgia and Utah were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 most of the season. Utah defeated Georgia in the season-opener.
Utah's Ashley Postell picked up four individual victories Saturday, winning the all-around at 39.60 to teammate Kristina Baskett's 39.40, even though both of them watered down in some events and neither had the meet of her life, just like their team. Daria Bijak finished fourth in the all-around at 39.35.
"I think we started out a little shaky on bars, but we gained momentum the rest of the meet," said Baskett, the 2006 NCAA bars champion who scored 9.825 to be one of six to tie for second behind Postell. Baskett noted the Utes started the meet with the bye before bars, meaning they sat out after warming up. She wasn't sure if that had anything to do with herself and several teammates having to ad lib their bar routines. Jamie Deetscreek, Bijak and Postell all had some bars problems, Postell hitting her heel on the low bar but covering.
On other events, it was planned to downgrade a bit for some people. "We don't want to beat up anybody's body" at this point with only nationals to go, said Baskett.
Postell won bars (9.85), beam (9.90) and floor (9.95), even though she did not do her double Arabian and other big skills. "She was just feeling sluggish, and she realizes that this isn't the big one. If it was, she would have, but she wasn't feeling great so she just backed off a little bit," Marsden said.
Postell also had tweaked a knee in practice, so her floor routine was watered down quite a bit.
But Postell was good enough to annex several more Ute records. She now has 116 career event victories to break the 112-112 tie she'd been in with Theresa Kulikowski, and she had 43 wins in a season to break Kulikowski's record of 40. She broke her own career mark for all-around wins with 29 now, and she is one short of tying Suzanne Metz for all-around wins in a season. Postell has 10 and could hit 11 if she wins the NCAA all-around on Thursday, April 24. If Utah qualifies for the Super Six, she could set the career record if she wins all-around on national finals night, as she has the last two years.
Postell said she feels much more relaxed now having several records out of the way. She admitted she stressed a bit over them because she was asked so much about them, and doing as well as she did Saturday boosts her confidence for the final push.
Baskett scored 9.925 to win the vault title, though she only did her full twist instead of the 1 1/2. Usually the 1 1/2 is easier on her sore ankle, but the full is less risky, so it was planned that she would do that, and it turned out it didn't hurt the ankle at all this time. And she did it very well.
Also vaulting well if not scoring well for it was Bijak, who had hyperextended a knee on vault in her last meet and only tried the vault twice since then but stuck it perfectly. She said that's because she wasn't thinking about doing it perfectly. She scored 9.875 with a fine front layout that her teammates, including Baskett, said should have won the event.
The Utes were fine with the fact that their regional score which means little toward the national qualifying is seventh-best among the 12 teams advancing to the Georgia finals.
"It definitely wasn't our best meet," said sophomore Annie DiLuzio. "We have stuff we need to fix."
"It always feels good to advance," said Postell. "It's nice to get this meet over with and advance to the next big thing."
"I'm always a little disappointed when we're not at our very best," said Marsden, "but I realize, and I think they realize, that you want to get through this one and make sure you're there (nationals)."But he added, "Obviously we've got to be a lot sharper the next meet."