The 2006 season has been a year of firsts for Utah freshmen Nina Kim and Kristina Baskett. Saturday's regional gymnastics meet at Michigan will give them yet another new experience, competing in a six-team format.
Utah will start on the floor, then go vault, bye, bars, beam and bye.
"I've never competed with six teams before, I don't know what to expect," Baskett said. "It'll be really different, but I'm looking forward to it."
Some coaches don't like ending on the beam because it's such a difficult event anyway, and performing last often adds more pressure. Ending on a bye is also considered a bit of bad luck, because scores usually tend to soar on the last rotation.
Baskett didn't think the unfamiliar rotation would bother her or Kim, and Utah coach Greg Marsden downplayed it as well.
"If you don't start on vault, like you're used to, then they're all different," he said. "It's not that big of a deal."
Sizing up the opponents
On paper, the Utes seemed to have lucked out with their regional seeding by getting into a region with relatively little competition. Meet host Michigan will be difficult to beat, but the Utes already have the confidence from their earlier 196.4-196.1 win over the ninth-ranked Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Of the other four teams, unranked New Hampshire is the only team with a winning record at 10-6. Auburn, Pittsburgh and Rutgers are 27-34 combined.
Utah's season low, a 194.875 it scored at the season opener in a win over UCLA, is higher than the season bests of New Hampshire (194.195), Pittsburgh (192.28) and Rutgers (191.06). Auburn's high is a 196.7.
Utah's Ashley Postell and Nicolle Ford, ranked seventh and eighth with regional qualifying scores of 39.435 and 39.42, respectively, are the favorites in the all-around Saturday. Auburn's Julie Dwyer is ranked 10th with an RQS of 39.344. Dwyer is also ranked sixth on the uneven bars.
The fans will be behind hometown favorite
Most coaches in the country believe UCLA, despite spending most of the season out of the top-10 rankings, will be one of the top teams at nationals, and everyone will be interested to see what kind of score the ninth-ranked Bruins earn at the South Central Regional, which also includes No. 3 Florida, No. 18 Arkansas, Illinois, Illinois-Chicago and Southeast Missouri State.
The Bruins finished second at the Pacific-10 Conference Championships behind Stanford, 197.1-196.8, and coach Val Kondos believes her team is peaking at the right time. The Bruins have won four of the last six titles.
"The Pac-10 Championships were the first time we took the floor confidently all season," Kondos said.
Of the six regional competitions, all are scheduled for Saturday except for the Central, which will take place at LSU tonight. It includes No. 7 LSU, No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 16 Penn State, No. 20 Kentucky, Michigan State and Ohio State.