Thanks to a rare preseason training period with few injuries, none serious, and to a focused and consistent group of athletes, the University of Utah's second-ranked gymnastics team is well ahead of where it's been in past years.
The Utes demonstrated that for their fans Friday night at the Huntsman Center in their annual Red Rocks Preview.
For the most part, they were able to do complete routines, including many of their more-difficult skills such as Kristina Baskett and Annie DiLuzio doing double Arabians, and doing them well, to open their floor exercises rather than the dance-throughs and partial routines they've done in past Red Rocks Previews.
The season opener is still nearly a month away, so not all was as sharp as they'd like it to be when the Utes open by hosting UCLA Jan. 9 in the Huntsman Center.
But even that's good, said coach Greg Marsden, because it lets them know what to work on before the 2009 opener.
Heck, Baskett, one of two seniors along with Nina Kim, now knows she's got to improve her floor exercise because that was the only thing that kept her from scoring a perfect 40.0 for the meet.
She instead totaled 39.95, thanks to the way the Utes used selected fans from the stands to sit in the judges' chairs and do the scoring so that the new production and scoring staffers could test their electronics and procedures.
"I liked the judges," Baskett said. "That's the closest I'll ever get to 40."
For the first time, the six-year-old Red Rocks Preview was held in the exact form of a meet, something that the Utes began leaning toward last year, said Marsden. This time, the video walls were active, and scorers' tables and chairs were set up just like for a regular meet, and the club was divided into red and white teams.
In another first, DiLuzio did a competitive-style bar routine. She's not been able to do bars for three years due to an elbow injury that is now healed, making her a candidate for all-around.
Baskett and Kim were certain this team will be able to carry on without the remarkable Ashley Postell, who completed her eligibility last season as one of the most decorated Ute gymnasts ever.
"We can never replace Ashley," said Baskett, "or Katie (Kivisto) or Jess (Duke), but we have really good depth."
"We're just in sync," said Kim. After watching the Red Rocks Preview, "I cannot believe how deep we are."
Freshmen Stephanie McAllister and Cortni Beers have already found their niches.
"They both just fit in so easily, it doesn't feel like there's a gap," said Baskett.
This team is like a jigsaw puzzle, with each person being their own piece that meshes perfectly. "I think we're all meant to be here," Baskett said
Associate head coach Megan Marsden added that the group is so determined it practically runs itself, whether it's solving individuals' problems or getting practice running on time.
Other team members are juniors 2008 German Olympian Daria Bijak, Jamie Deetscreek and Beth Rizzo; and sophomores Jacquelyn Johnson, Gael Mackie and Kyndal Robarts.The Utes have just 11 competitors as junior Stephanie Neff retired due to back problems. She attended the meet.