Gymnastics: Confidence beaming
Get on the thing, survive your routine and get off without falling. That kind of thinking is the usual strategy for the balance beam, a 16-foot long, 4-inch wide board that has dashed so many championship hopes with a mere slip.
On Friday night, Utah's second-ranked gymnastics team used it more like a vault, nailing its best performance on the apparatus en route to its highest score of the year.
Utah totaled a 197.2 to beat Southern Utah (193.175) and Utah State (192.675) in front of 12,563 fans at the Huntsman Center. A win against their unranked, instate rivals was expected, but not by such a big score.
The Utes earned a 49.45 on the balance beam, their highest mark of the year and the highest team score for any of the events Friday.
Utah's previous season best was a 48.9 in the opener at UCLA. The school record is 49.65 set in 1995, and last year's high was a 49.55.
"That was awesome," Utah junior Nicolle Ford said of the beam performance. "I didn't think we'd ever score a 197 again. I thought scoring in the 195s were going to be good scores."
Gabi Onodi led off with a 9.825 on the beam and Kristen Riffanacht followed with a 9.8 in her second appearance on the event this year.
Freshman Kristina Baskett fell and scored just 9.25, but her mark didn't count as Gritt Hofmann scored a career-high 9.95, Ford matched that score and tied her career high and Ashley Postell ended the rotation with a 9.925.
"Everyone was on a roll," Postell said. "When you're seeing the high scores, it makes us a little more relaxed."
The Utes finished off the night with a 49.325 on the floor, where its low marks were 9.825s from Ford and Hofmann.
"When you just hit beam, you can go to floor and just finish, there is no holding back," Hofmann said.
A week ago Utah scored only 48.55 on the beam. It didn't have a fall, but suffered several minor breaks, mostly from the same gymnasts who hit big Friday.
"I wasn't worried about beam, because they are all our usual big scorers, but they were all a little bit off last week," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "Tonight they were all on."
The Utes' performance was solid as they hit 23 of 24 routines, but the general consensus was that the scores were higher than normal. SUU, for instance, counted two falls, but still posted a much higher mark than a week ago when it opened the season at Oklahoma with a 190.05.
"We're still seeing some discrepancies and the judges are struggling to get on the same page," Marsden said. "I never thought at this point in the season, we'd go 197. I try not to worry about the scores meet to meet, because I know we're going to see some real differences. But I will say this, the ones who had the really good scores had some pretty good routines."
Among the really good routines were Ford's and Postell's, which tied for the all-around honors with 39.55. Postell treated her own performance more with relief than excitement, hoping she's finally over an arm injury that has made her struggle in the first meets.
On Friday, she started her floor routine with a double Arabian, the move in which she tore a ligament in her elbow in the preseason.
"First I'm happy for the team, to get a 197," she said. "For me I was really happy. It was a confidence boost. We were all more relaxed in this meet, there wasn't too much pressure on us, and that helped me hit my routines."
IN SHORT - Even with usual all-around performer Nina Kim sidelined with the flu, Utah earned its highest mark of the season.
KEY MOMENT - After Kristina Baskett fell off the balance beam, Gritt Hofmann got the team going again with a career high 9.95.
KEY STAT - With its 197.2, Utah joins UCLA, Georgia and Alabama as the only teams to score 197 or higher this year.