Utah gymnastics: Seniors set for home finale
There is Katie Kivisto, the quiet gymnast who evolved into a strong team leader; Jessica Duke, the hometown girl who proved she deserved a scholarship to one of the nation's top programs, regardless of her address; and Ashley Postell, one of the most talented gymnasts to ever don a Utah leotard.
They are three unique gymnasts who together make up Utah's senior class. Ute fans will get a final chance to see them compete at home tonight when second-ranked Utah hosts rival BYU at the Huntsman Center.
"I've been thinking about it off and on all week, and every time I do, I get very emotional," Duke said. "Especially thinking about saluting my last routine, it's going to be really emotional."
Being a part of Utah's program has been a personal accomplishment for Duke, who grew up in Sandy emulating the Utes. Since the Utes go after the top available recruits, in the nation and otherwise, Duke's recruitment might have been seen by some as merely a nice gesture toward an in-state athlete.
However, coach Greg Marsden made it clear Duke was no charity case, and she has proved she deserved a scholarship by being one of Utah's most consistent performers. She has never missed a routine at the NCAA Championships, and in 2007, earned second-team All-America honors on the bars.
This season, she has competed almost exclusively on the bars, a testament to the improvement of her teammates rather than a dip in her own abilities.
"If this were other years, I'd be dissatisfied if I were competing only one event, but I feel like I've been doing my best and my most consistent," she said.
Kivisto has had a hard time keeping her spot in the lineup, too, competing mainly on the bars and floor. She views just getting to her senior year an accomplishment, as she has battled through injuries and personal setbacks.
"Sometimes it never felt like I was going to get to this point," she said. "The last two years have gone by so fast. This has been my favorite team because everybody has gotten along so well."
And speaking of favorites, Postell will end her career high on many Ute followers' list of favorite gymnasts.
Postell entered her senior season as one of Utah's most decorated gymnasts and is riding out on the momentum of one of the best regular seasons ever enjoyed by a gymnast.
She has lost in the all-around just once, fallen only twice, scored two 10.0s on the vault and is ranked No. 1 nationally in the all-around, vault and balance beam. The 15-time All-American already has set a school record with 27 all-around career wins and has several other school marks within her reach.
"All three have been important contributors in their own way," Marsden said. "But Ashley is probably the most obvious week in and week out. Those don't come along all the time."
Postell has the admiration of fans and her teammates, who, more than anyone, appreciate how easy she makes difficult tricks appear.
"Sometimes she'll do something and I think, 'Gosh, how can someone do that,?' " junior Nina Kim said. "She is so talented and she has given Utah gymnastics such a big name. I'm glad she's my teammate."
BYU at No. 2 Utah
Where: Huntsman Center
When: Today, 7 p.m.
Records: Utah 11-1, BYU 6-9-1
What to look for: BYU has never beaten Utah in Salt Lake City, going 0-38 against its rival here. . . . BYU's season high is 196.300. . . . Out of the 264 routines performed by the Utes this season, they have had just seven falls. . . . Ute junior Kristina Baskett is a win away from 50 career victories. . . . Dayna Smart (39.5) is BYU's top all-arounder.
Elsewhere: SUU, Utah State, at WAC Championships, Saturday, 6 p.m. at Boise State
Jessica Duke - Never missed a routine at the NCAA Championships; second-team All-American on the uneven bars in 2007.
Katie Kivisto - Has hit 42 of 48 routines in her career; named Utes' inspirational gymnast in 2007 after overcoming an elbow injury.
Ashley Postell - Utah's career all-around leader with 27 victories; 2007 NCAA balance beam champion; 15-time All-American.
Postell's record chase
A look at Utah senior Ashley Postell's career accolades:
Category Postell Utah record
All-Around wins, career 27 27 (Postell)
All-Around wins, season 8 11 (Suzanne Metz, 1995)
Total wins, season 35 40 (Theresa Kulikowski, 1999)
Total wins, career 108 112 (Kulikowski 1999-03)
All-America awards, career 15 16 (Kristen Kenoyer 1990-93)