Nina Kim and Kristina Baskett came to gymnastics meets at the University of Utah last year, but that didn't prepare the two freshmen for exactly how it would be when they actually stepped on the Huntsman Center floor in front of more than 12,000 fans Friday night.
"It was the most exciting thing I've ever experienced," said Kim.
Better, even, than she had hoped it would be "I just had all this energy and I made my floor routine," said Kim, who went on floor in exhibition after falling in her first two away meets on that event. This time there were no falls.
"It was so exciting. I have never had that many people come to watch me," agreed fellow freshman Kristina Baskett, who craves the spotlight and did well under it Friday night. "It gave me a lot to feed off. It does something to me that I like."
Baskett won the all-around in her first-ever Ute home meet, leading third-ranked Utah (3-0) to a 195.75-193.00 victory over a sixth-ranked Nebraska (4-2-1) that hardly showed its best after starting with problems and low scoring on bars. The scoring was low on bars for Utah, too, said Husker coach Dan Kendig, saying that if the judges found deductions, the Cornhuskers would just have to find ways to correct them.
"We just have to use this experience," Kendig said.
Nebraska's Emily Parsons came into the meet as the nation's No. 1-ranked all-arounder but had 9.425 as the first competitor on bars. She came back with a meet-high score of 9.95 on vault, but it wasn't enough to get her into the top three in the all-around with Baskett followed by teammates Nicolle Ford with a season-high 39.275 and Ashley Postell with 39.125 in her first four-event night of the season.
Ford has a sore wrist that has kept her from training, and Postell missed eight weeks of preseason training with an elbow injury and is just starting to round into shape.
"She's just incredible," said Ute coach Greg Marsden, adding Postell is close to being ready to upgrade her bars dismount and that "people shouldn't be disappointed if she's not starting as well as last year, when she was a brilliant freshman, because of her long rehab road."
Ford "is just a tough kid that is very determined" to compete, said Marsden. The wrist has bothered her for three weeks, and doctors still don't know what's wrong but have told her she won't hurt it worse, so she can do what her pain threshold allows. Marsden suspects it's a bone bruise, though that didn't show up on the MRI.
"It's sore," Ford said, adding with a laugh, "It's a lot easier to compete on it than to practice on it."
She didn't even do her complete vault in warm-ups but managed to stick a 9.825. She was "disappointed on floor (9.825). It would be nice if I could train more of it," but she didn't want to use that as an excuse.
Fifth-year senior Gritt Hofmann made an odd error in judgment in her floor routine that the crowd loves so much. Coming out of her double twist on her final tumbling pass, she chose to attempt a layout-stepout move out of it. She hasn't done that in competition yet, though she has in practice. But the indecision left her falling and out of bounds, turning an ankle and then landing on the top of her head.
"Gritt got lost on her double twist," Marsden noted, unaware she was changing her mind. "I wish she would have made a better decision," but he wasn't upset because "she chose to be aggressive."
He figured the ankle might take a couple of days to heal.
Since the team has seen the new, lower scoring for two meets, it is getting accustomed to it, but the crowd, seeing its first meet, wasn't as loud as usual, perhaps trying to get used to cheering for 9.85s instead of 9.95s. Every four years, the scoring code of points changes, and this year, there's a particular emphasis on more difficulty to separate the good from the very good, and everybody is trying to figure it out.
Baskett scored 9.85s on vault and bars, 9.725 on her first beam routine to count this season and a meet-high 9.90 on floor to total 39.325.
"I'm happy with my first home meet. It's a good start," said Baskett. "Hopefully, I will keep getting better."
Marsden thanked his older athletes for talking the two youngsters through the meet. They "know what it takes. They were in their ear," settling their nerves. "It wasn't by any means a perfect meet," Marsden noted, counting indecision, tentativeness and steps on landings. But at least the Utes didn't count any falls, which they did the last two meets, and they were aggressive in posting their highest of their three scores so far.This gives something upon which to build while giving him some things to coach.