It was obvious the first time Traci Sommer stepped on the Huntsman Center floor as a freshman last year that she was another special one, following the footsteps of Shelly Schaerrer, Kristen Kenoyer, Suzanne Metz and Aimee Trepanier, who made impressive reputations early in their Utah gymnastics careers.
Sommer began her career with a 39.325 all-around on Jan. 16, 1995, the best-ever debut score by a Ute. She added 39.10 in the fourth meet of her freshman season and was in the high 38s four other times during that regular season, scored 39.425 against BYU in the regular-season finale, 38.60 in the regional, 38.45 on preliminary night at the NCAA Championships at Georgia and 39.25 on Super Six night to help Utah win its 10th national title in '95.A tremendous freshman season. At the same time, it was a little inconsistent. Sommer did all-around every meet - unusual for a freshman - but had a few mid-38s and a 37.825.
As a sophomore - who will likely be Utah's only all-arounder at the '96 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships at Alabama Thursday through Saturday - Sommer started slowly after partially tearing two spinal discs in November and a February illness that held her out of the all-around in two meets.
Once her health returned (the torn discs in her back are still a potential problem), she posted four consecutive 39+ scores, dropped to 38.20 with falls in one meet and came back with a career-high 39.525 to end the regular season and 39.30 in the Midwest Regional April 13. For the season so far, she's topped 39 seven times.
"This year has gone really well," Sommer says. "The main thing I wanted to do was keep consistency in my routines." She did that by learning from the mistakes she made last season.
"A lot of it," Sommer explains, "had to do with letting things happen naturally, not forcing skills or trying to rush things. Learning in stages. They're really good on the order (of learning) you're supposed to go in, being patient."
Sommer, from Chatham, N.J., where she once trained under former Ute NCAA vault champion Elaine Alfano, also spent four club years working with a sports psychologist to control meet stress. She uses mental cues and superstitions to help get ready. She has no problem competing if her routine is altered, which happens a lot, especially in road meets. But the superstitions, like wearing certain clothing or equipment, helps her focusing and relaxation techniques and keeps her mind busy until it's her time to perform.