Coming off what coach Ray Corn calls "a breakthrough meet" for Utah State at Oklahoma last weekend, the Aggies move to postseason gymnastics tonight when they host for the first time the Big West Conference championships in the Spectrum at 7 p.m.
It's the first time Utah State, ranked 10th nationally, has participated in a Big West meet. It used to be in the High Country Conference with statemates Utah and Brigham Young and could have joined the Western Athletic Conference when they did last year but instead aligned with the Big West this season. Today's the first time USU will have met a BWC team this season."We needed to go into the Big West," says Corn, noting other Aggie teams are BWC members. Also, he says, it was getting to be "old hat" meeting BYU and Utah three times a season; this gives USU a chance to face "new blood."
There's been only one other Big West Conference meet, 1987. Cal-Fullerton was champion.
Fullerton, UC-Santa Barbara and San Jose State are the other conference members for this meet.
Winless San Jose has had trouble fielding a full lineup this season because of injuries, and injuries have been a problem for Fullerton, usually a nationally prominent team.
Corn thinks Fullerton's injuries are healing and CSF and Santa Barbara, a new power, are about even with the Aggies in three of the four events.
The Aggies have the edge in vaulting, and if their vault team continues to do well tonight, that could be the deciding factor in the meet. Aggie vaulters will be all-arounders Barb Zahl, Michele Bugbee and Brenda Scholl, along with Heidi Pfannensteil, Kim Johnson and Stacy Lynn.
USU has had some problems competing in the Spectrum. Its three best scores came in road meets. Still, it's a last home appearance for the three senior all-arounders and Pfannenstiel, who could perform in two or three events.
This team has probably been Corn's most consistent at USU. "We never had a meet where we had to count more than one fall," he says.
The 12-10 Ags, however, are again "on the bubble" for advancing to the NCAA finals. Last year, they went for the first time as a team and finished 12th, but illness (Zahl, mononucleosis) and injuries (most recently Bugbee's banged-up heel) have hurt their six-meet Regional Qualifying Score. That's important because it counts one-third (the regional score counts two-thirds) toward making nationals, and five of the nation's top 10 teams are in the Midwest Regional at Utah April 11.
A high score tonight could help USU, which would like to replace a 190.6 to improve upon an RQS of 191.125.
USU scored its third-highest total of the season, 191.55, at Oklahoma last week. The Ags didn't count a fall.
UCSB, 12-13, has an RQS of 189.6. Freshman Lauren Yee (38.55 all-around best) and sophomore Eve Lopez (38.05) lead a team with seven freshmen. CSF, 7-8, has an RQS of 189.5. Celeste Delia is the Big West's leading all-arounder with a high of 38.9. Coach Lynn Rogers has six freshmen, a redshirt freshman and one sophomore. San Jose's RQS is 156.5; the Spartans are 0-17.