Utah gymnastics: Utes set high target
ATHENS, Ga. - Utah junior Nina Kim has learned to anticipate the question that always comes after someone finds out she is a member of Utah's gymnastics team.
"They always ask, 'So y'all are going to win it, right?' " she said. "We always have to tell them it's not that easy."
The "it" she refers to is the national championship, the highest level of success a collegiate team can reach. The Utes have stood atop the podium 10 times, more than any other team in the country.
However, the team that set the standard in the sport's early days, winning six titles in the 1980s, hasn't won since 1995.
Today, the Utes go for No. 11 when they compete in NCAA Championships' Super Six in Athens, Ga., the site of their 1995 achievement.
That banner hangs in Utah's practice gym along with the others. They're getting dusty and a little faded. It's time to add a new one, said junior Kristina Baskett.
Baskett helped the Utes finish second the last two seasons. Nice accomplishments, but not what the Utes would be happy with this season.
"We've been there and done that," she said. "I'd like to move up, and this year would be a good year to do it."
After a season that started with a win over Georgia, included only one loss, at Florida, and ended with the Utes finishing a regular season without counting a fall for the first time in the program's history, there may not be a better time for the Utes to win it all.
The current team has drawn comparisons to the squads in the early 1990s, which claimed titles in 1990 and 1992.
"You start with the talent," co-head coach Megan Marsden said in explaining what it takes to be a winning team. "You have to have some ringers, and we have more than one, but then you have to have the role players who know their roles and are all right with them. Then you have to have the chemistry, and as much as you try, you can't coach that aspect; the chemistry thing has to fall into place."
The chemistry is there in this team, waiting to mix for one final big win. The main ingredients are stars Ashley Postell, the school's career record holder for wins, and Baskett, a three-time All-American. Then there are the role players, gymnasts including Daria Bijak, Kim and Annie DiLuzio who may not compete in every event but consistently provide spice with big scores. Others, such as Katie Kivisto and Beth Rizzo, often don't make the lineup, but push their teammates in practice and act as the thickening agent on competition day, holding everyone together.
It's a special team, one that is so close to achieving something that Baskett tears up at the thought.
"Everybody feels it," she said. "The pieces can all fit. I know that it can't be just one or two people who think that, everybody has to be on board and really believe we could. I think most are."
The X-factor, of course, is the judging, the human element to gymnastics that drives some sports fans nutty. Even if the Utes do their best, the judges may determine some other team did a little better.
When you're Utah, the difference between success and failure is as slim as the four-inch balance beam.
"We set that standard," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "I want people's expectations to be high and ours to be high."
Utah's national titles:
1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995