It didn't take long for freshman Kassandra Lopez to earn the respect of the Utah gymnastics team's upperclassmen.
"She was throwing all these skills on bars, beam, floor, everywhere," sophomore Corrie Lothrop remembered. "She was good at whatever she does, and her routines were always consistent."
Those first impressions haven't changed now that the season has started.
Lopez a Tucson, Ariz., native who returns to familiar territory Sunday when the Utes compete at Arizona State has solidified herself as the leadoff gymnast on both the balance beam and uneven bars. It's unusual for a freshman to be in such a pressure spot, particularly on the balance beam, but Lopez has thrived.
She has scored below 9.8 only once, on her first routine for the Utes when she earned a 9.75 on the uneven bars at UCLA. Since then she has been earning scores in the 9.8 to 9.9 range, a consistency that matches her attitude, said coach Greg Marsden.
"She is an even-tempered person and isn't someone who gets way up or gets way down in practice or competition," he said. "There aren't a lot of extremes with her, and I think there is something comforting about that. I think the team has a lot of confidence in her, and the demeanor makes her powerful in a funny sort of way."
Lopez, who placed 10th in the all-around at the 2011 Junior Olympic Championships, was recruited by Oklahoma, Michigan and Arizona, but chose Utah because she liked the atmosphere of the Huntsman Center. To her, having 15,000 people watch only adds benefits.
Luckily her attitude is carrying over to her gymnastics.
"You feel that vibe in there, and you want to do well for the team," she said. "There is a little pressure as the leadoff because you know it's important, but as long as I stay relaxed and do my thing, I'm OK."
Joining the Utes early for summer workouts helped Lopez adjust to the college scene too, she said. Once the team got down to preparing for the season opener, Lopez not only felt comfortable with her new teammates and the equipment, but also was prepared for the demands of competing every week something gymnasts don't do at the club and elite levels.
"It made it an easy transition for me," she said. "It was good to know the other freshmen before school started, and getting to know the equipment and stuff, it helped a lot."
Having Lopez in the leadoff position on two events, plus fellow freshman Becky Tutka's solid performances on floor and Tory Wilson on vault, has Marsden believing his leadoffs are set for the season.
"I'm really happy with them right now," he said. "Putting Kassandra there, initially we didn't know what to expect, but she has turned out to be a mentally tough competitor who is calm and consistent. I'm really pleased with all of them."
No. 1 Utah at No. 25 ASU
P Sunday, 2 p.m.
Records • Utah (3-1), ASU (4-0)
About the Utes • The Utes hold the top spot for the second week in a row and are ranked No. 1 on the balance beam and floor. ... The Utes lost their only road meet, at UCLA, in the season opener. ... Stephanie McAllister has hit 99 of her past 100 routines dating back to her sophomore season.
About the Sun Devils • Had their first 4-0 start since 2009. ... Season high was 195.875 in a home win over Arizona (194.35). ... Beate Jones has won three straight all-around competitions and has a season-best 39.3.