The first is seeing where the team is, how routines work and who does well under pressure. The second part is upgrading routines and emphasizing sticking on the landings so the team can do the third: Peak during the championship month.
At the midpoint of the regular season, Utah is moving into that second stage this week. The Utes tried out some new tricks in their win against BYU on Friday, mainly on the floor. There, Rachel Tidd, Gritt Hofmann and Katie Kivisto all had upgrades, helping the Utes score a 49.25, their third-highest mark in the event this year.
"I was pleasantly surprised at what we got in," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "It's something we talked about last week, and we still need to work on it now."
Fortunately for the Utes, who compete at No. 6 Nebraska on Sunday, the activity in the training room has quieted down a bit with most of the gymnasts being over the injuries that have slowed them the last two weeks.
Natalie Nicoloff, who didn't compete in the last two meets because of an elbow injury, was back in the practice lineup on Monday.
Even better news for the Utes is that Kristen Riffanacht, who pulled out of the floor lineup after aggravating her hamstring injury on the balance beam, is responding well to treatment and practiced lightly Monday.
Utah's meet against Nebraska comes on a Sunday, a rare day for the Utes to compete. A Sunday meet won't be a problem for LDS Church member Jessica Duke, who is expected to be in the vault lineup.
"I've had to compete on Sundays before at the club level, so it isn't an issue," she said. "I'd prefer if the meets weren't on Sundays, but we have so few meets, it doesn't bother me too much."
In the ranks
BYU moved up two spots into a tie for 11th with Arkansas, and Southern Utah moved up two spots to No. 15.
Look for the rankings to change dramatically next week when they switch from season average to the regional qualifying scoring system (the five best scores are averaged, not including the season high, but it must include three road scores).
Three of the nation's top 10 all-arounders are Utes. Freshman Ashley Postell is ranked fourth, Tidd is fifth and Nicolle Ford is eighth. Tidd is No. 1 on the uneven bars, Postell is seventh on the floor and Ford is eighth on the balance beam and 10th on the uneven bars.
Around the nation
Nebraska lost at Iowa State, 196.925-196.775 . . . Georgia, which plays host to Utah next week, lost at LSU and Oklahoma over the weekend to extend its losing streak to three meets, the first time it has lost three in a row in coach Suzanne Yoculan's 22 years. . . . Florida, which competes at Utah on March 4 along with Cal and Stanford, scored a 196.525 to beat Auburn, 194.0 . . . UCLA had a two-meet weekend and earned two very different scores, beating Cal State Fullerton 191.4-189.825 on Friday, then beating Washington 196.575-192.6 on Sunday. The Bruins rested several of their top gymnasts in that first meet, but scoring was very tight too, with only one score being above 9.8. The high mark was a 9.9 from Kate Richardson on the balance beam.
Leaving the comforts of home
Southern Utah competes at BYU on Friday, the first of four straight road meets. The T-birds have yet to win on the road but are coming off their best performance, a 196.175-194.55 win over Boise State, SUU's third-best score in school history.
BYU won the earlier matchup between the rivals, 195.575-192.575.