"1, 2, 3, 4."... Utah gymnast Georgia Dabritz counted, keeping her mind on the next number, not the moves in her balance beam routine.
"5, 6, 7, 8"... she continued, and before she knew it, her routine was over and in the hands of the judges, who awarded the Ute sophomore a 9.875 for the routine she performed at UCLA.
5-foot-1, sophomore. From » Newburyport, Mass.
Of note » Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. ... Placed 10th in NCAA vault finals. ... Pac-12 and NCAA regional bar champion. ... Tied for the team lead with 12 wins. ... Hit 41 of 44 routines. ... Majoring in health, society and policy.
O Oregon State, West Virginia, Southern Utah at Utah
When » Saturday, 7 p.m.
But even before the judges flashed their scores, Dabritz already had graded herself.
"I was ecstatic," she said. "Everyone kept telling me how calm I looked up there. I felt nervous and shaky, and it was such a relief to have it done."
As a freshman, Dabritz never could master the balance beam and was too inconsistent to earn a spot in the beam lineup. This year, with a roster depleted of experienced gymnasts, Dabritz is being called upon to perform in the event.
"We are going to live and die with Georgia," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "She obviously isn’t the only one on the event, but we need her to perform well."
Dabritz had the skill level last year, but she didn’t have the consistency, as the mental issues that plagued her on beam earlier in her career followed her to college.
She spent the offseason working on the psychology of the event with support from co-coach Megan Marsden.
"I see a lot of similarities in Georgia with the mental issues I had," Megan Marsden said, recalling her own gymnastics career at Utah. "I tried to help her go through the process using some of the ways our sport psychologist, Keith Henschen, used with me. You need to have mental tools to help you get through those moments when you start having those negative conversations with yourself."
Counting has turned out to be the trick for Dabritz.
"It helps me because I don’t overthink things," she said. "Last year, I tried some other things and it was always, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to fall off the beam.’ I knew exactly where I was going to mess up. Counting helps me keep focused and keeps my mind off things."
Balance beam was the only event that prevented Dabritz from joining the nation’s elite gymnasts. Now, if she can perform well enough to stay in the lineup, the Utes believe Dabritz could be a contender for the national all-around title.
Dabritz certainly showed she had the necessary skills on the other events, earning the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award.
She won the Pac-12 and regional uneven bars title and earned All-America honors on the vault with a 10th-place finish.
"Georgia is an extremely gifted and talented athlete, and the only rap against her was consistency on beam," Greg Marsden said. "We felt like correcting that was as much of a mental approach as anything, so we tried to give her some tools to help with that. Hopefully the other night is a reflection of what we will see as she moves forward and becomes a much stronger competitor mentally."
Maintaining a role in the beam lineup isn’t the only way the Utes want to see Dabritz contributing. With no seniors on the roster, the Utes need some team leaders. That role normally falls to the headliners, such as Dabritz.
Even though she is only a sophomore, Dabritz said she understands she has to contribute to that role.
"Last year, I kind of sat back from everything and let the seniors do what they do," she said. "I didn’t speak my mind very much. This year, I know they are expecting some of us to fill those spots and to have more say in things. Hopefully, I can do that."
The Utes are asking a lot of the sophomore, Greg Marsden acknowledged. But if anyone is capable of meeting the demands, it’s Dabritz, he said.
"The only thing holding her back was that consistent mental approach," he said. "Hopefully, she has the tools now she needs for that."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.