Competing for Utes a dream come true
Jeff and Joy Duke will sit in the Huntsman Center tonight and wonder how it came to this. How did the two BYU graduates come to wear red, and cheer for that other Utah team?
They'll do it out of love, albeit a little begrudgingly, because their daughter broke family tradition and headed north to college, instead of south.
"There was a time when I would wear anything but red," said Jeff Duke, who was BYU's student body president in 1980-81. "We had to go out and expand our wardrobes."
Jessica Duke is a freshman on Utah's top-ranked gymnastics team, which plays host to the No. 13 Cougars tonight at 7 p.m.
A graduate of the Water ford school in Sandy, Duke spent many of her weekend nights at the Huntsman Center, watching the Utes compete. She was doing well in her own gymnastics too, reaching the elite level and winning the 2000 Junior Olympics all-around title, then placing 10th in 2003 and 14th in 2004.
And even though her parents' closets were filled with BYU attire, Duke never really shared their affinity for the Provo school, always seeing red. Actually there was a little orange, too.
After a recruiting visit to Oregon State, Duke strongly considered the Beavers when they offered a scholarship. Not wanting to put Oregon State off, Duke took it upon herself to find out what the Utes thought of her, calling Utah coach Greg Marsden.
"I was nervous, but when he told me he was going to offer me a scholarship, it was a dream come true," Duke said. "Every girl in Utah in gymnastics wants to come to the U. As soon as he offered, it wasn't a hard decision at all."
The success of Utah gymnastics has encouraged the development of strong club programs in the state, but still, relatively few local gymnasts have been good enough to earn scholarships to Utah.
Diedra Graham, a Tooele native and an All-American who competed from 1999-2002, and Monica Shaw, a gymnast from Murray who competed for the Utes in 1995, are the only Utahns to have earned scholarships to the Utes in the last 10 years.
"We don't just give scholarships to local kids," Marsden said. "They have to be able to give back and contribute to the team."
Duke has done that, earning a 9.725 on the uneven bars at Utah State and 9.75 on the vault at Minnesota, showing the same kind of confidence she has demonstrated in exhibition routines.
"Her skills are such that she can help the team on almost every event," Marsden said. "I'm not surprised by what she has done."
Duke would be contributing more if it weren't for some calcium deposits in her ankle that have given her some trouble. They started bothering her just before the season started, and she'll have surgery after the season.
"It's just now starting to feel better, but we still have to be careful with it," Marsden said.
As well as she has performed, the rookie isn't always guaranteed a spot in the lineup, such is the competitive nature of Utah's team. Duke, who will compete on vault tonight, knows she could compete more if she were on another team, but that wouldn't be as satisfying to her.
"I mind, but I'd rather fight for a spot and when I do good enough to compete, get in the lineup then," she said. "It's a great feeling to compete on the No. 1 team, instead of just being an all-arounder at a top-15 school."
It is a feeling echoed by her parents, who are warming up to the school up north more and more.
"I'm a Utah fan every Friday night," her father said. "But who knows, by the end of four years, I might be wearing red on other nights too. With football and basketball doing well, it's a good time to be a Ute fan."
No. 13 BYU
at No. 1 Utah
TONIGHT, 7 p.m.
TV: tape-delayed, Saturday, 5 p.m., KJZZ
Utah: Nicolle Ford, who bruised her heel at Minnesota, has recuperated and is expected to compete in the all-around. . . . Gabi Onodi's ankle is better too and she should compete on the balance beam.
BYU: Jaime Mabray (39.65), Kristen Pauga (39.375) and Marie-Helene Claveau (39.375) are the Cougars' top all-arounders.
Elsewhere: Boise State at No. 18 SUU, tonight, 7 p.m.; No. 11 Denver at Utah State, tonight, 6:45 p.m.
Jessica Duke file
l Graduated from Sandy's Waterford School
l Placed 6th on uneven bars at 2004 Junior Olympics
l Trained at Olympus School of Gymnastics