Kristina Baskett has been a fan favorite since she first performed for a University of Utah gymnastics audience in January 2006. Her light, airy tumbling and dance, big skills, big smile and joy at performing made it look like it was all so easy for her.
Well, now it finally is.
"I think I'm just starting to figure things out - it's better late than never," said the senior who ranks second nationally in the all-around, vault and bars.
In past weeks, she's been the NCAA's top-ranked vaulter. She leads her club with 20 event wins this season and has twice scored 39.675, just shy of her career high of 39.70. She's also had scores of 39.65, 39.625 and 39.45.
"I'm finally, like, coming into myself maturity-wise with my mental-physical connection — and not being like a human stressball at the meets."
Watching her perform so fluidly, "stressball" is not what comes to mind, except for some past inconsistencies that have this season been put to bed.
In the past, "My nerves were higher than my confidence was, and now it's kind of switched, and I'm a lot more confident and comfortable on the competition floor just because it's like, 'Why am I so nervous about this? I've been here so many times.' I'm in the right mindset, and I've just kind of figured things out," Baskett said at practice during this bye week.
"I still have a lot of work to do on it, but it's definitely been in the right direction, and I hope I can continue and stay there for nationals (April 16-18 at Nebraska)."
The source of Baskett's new control seems to be that, for the first time in her career, she's taking advantage of sports psychologist Dr. Keith Henschen, who's been available to Ute gymnasts since Greg Marsden started the program 34 years ago.
Marsden had been one of Henschen's students. He has always told to his gymnasts to confide in Henschen, but he doesn't make them. "They have to be really open to what Keith asks them to do. I suggest it often, and especially if they're struggling a little bit, but it has to be something they want to do," Marsden said.
Baskett and fellow senior Nina Kim, wanting to have a great last season, decided in the offseason to finally work with Henschen, and they urged teammates to do it as well.
"Probably should have done it (before)," Marsden said of Baskett, but at least she's doing it now.
"He just gives you stuff to think about, and it's up to you to apply it," Baskett said. "Those of us who've been applying it in the gym and in the meets can see it, with Nina doing so well and some of the freshmen doing better. If you apply it, then it will help you."
Baskett was always one of the team's better all-arounders, and she was the NCAA uneven bars co-champion with Georgia Olympian Courtney Kupets in her freshman year.
Yet, she had technique problems at times, and that sometimes planted a seed of doubt. She's finally ironed that out, too. "This year, I'm completely confident in my gymnastics, and my skills are pretty solid. So right now, it's pretty much down to, 'I can do it physically. Can I do it mentally?'"
Since the mental part is the main thing now, "That's where all my energy is going because I can focus on that. It used to be a bunch of different things that I was trying to juggle, and now it's pretty much solidified, and I just have this one thing. It's cool to know," she said.
"I'm glad I've gotten to this point in my gymnastics career. Yes, I wish it was earlier," Baskett said, "but I'm glad it's here. It's a good feeling. My club coach told me I would feel like this one day, and I couldn't picture what it would be like to be this confident in my gymnastics."
Utah, ranked second this week after three weeks at No. 1, has three meets left in the regular season - March 8 with Arizona State and March 13 with Florida in the Huntsman Center and March 20 at BYU. NCAA Regionals are April 4.