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Despite beam bug, Utes down Aggies

The second-ranked Utah gymnastics team thought it had cleaned up its problems on the balance beam after two clean meets, including one on the road.

Friday night the old beam bug bit again, affecting not only the Utes but visiting Utah State, too. Utah had three falls from beam and one missed skill, and the 22nd-ranked Aggies had two falls and two major wobbles.Still, both teams thought they'd made progress, and at this time of the year, that's the name of the game.

Utah (7-1) scored 196.175, its third-best total of the season despite counting two beam falls, and the 192.775 by Utah State (4-7), while only its fifth-best score of the year, was half a point better than it did Monday at Southern Utah.

"In my opinion, we grew up a little," said Aggie coach Ray Corn. "We had fun, and we competed on all four events. I thought we competed much better. For the first time, I saw our intensity level go from one event to the next." USU's falls were "aggressive mistakes," Corn said, and coaches can live with those.

"I think we deserved it," said Utah

coach Greg Marsden of the U.'s second straight 196-plus score, which included season-best team totals of 49.475 on uneven bars and 49.375 on floor exercise and Utah's third-best vault total (48.925) of the season. "We still have some work to do in terms of the mental approach to (beam)," he said. "It was a bit of a step back."

For the last couple of years, the Utes have been the NCAA's top beam team, and Marsden says that in practices, they still look like it but have rarely put together a characteristic beam set in meets. Twice they've had three falls, and they've had two falls a couple of times.

The Utes hit four upgraded routines on floor and some in other events, and that was a big part of its goal for Friday's meet.

Two of Utah's top guns from last season, senior Traci Sommer and junior Angie Leonard, took the lead for the second straight meet. Sommer, who's had a knee sprain and a sore back holding her back all season, tied with Leonard to win beam at 9.925 and added 9.85 on floor, her best this season. She vaulted to 9.7. Sommer last week at Washington scored 9.95 on beam, 9.85 on vault and 9.8 on floor.

And Leonard had a season-high 39.60 all-around total, .25 off her career high. She had a season-high 9.95 on bars, 9.8 on vault and tied her career best with 9.925 on floor, making her a three-event winner. Leonard prepped for it with 39.325 at Washington last week.

"I had a good night, I guess. I hit everything," said Leonard, whose mother was in the audience of 9,934.

"She always does better when Sandy's here," Marsden teased Leonard, who denied that that was a motivator.

"I'm just more comfortable with everything," she said, still a bit disappointed that she hadn't hit a new second vault and didn't try her upgrade on floor.

Ute freshman Shannon Bowles, who sat out three events with a sore foot last week, suffered her first fall on beam but still scored 9.4 and still wound up with the night's second-best all-around total, 39.025, the fourth 39+ in her five tries as an all-arounder. She had 9.9s on vault and bars.

USU sophomore Christy Denson, who won the all-around when Utah visited Logan Feb. 2, finished third with 38.85, including 9.825s on beam and floor. She had troubles vaulting, sitting one down and taking bug steps on the other. "What I liked," said Corn, "for example, was when Christy faltered on vault, she came roaring back." Aggie freshman Melissa Kilpatrick took fourth (38.65).

Marsden was pleased with freshman Theresa Wolf, who's been quietly consistent and "overlooked most of the season," he said. "She's emerged as one of the real strong additions to the team."

Wolf, a four-year member of the Canadian national team, had a career-best 9.9 on floor and 9.825 on beam despite not completing one skill. She covered it up well and said completion of the skill wouldn't have added to her score.

Somewhat like Wisconsinite Jenny Schmidt last year, whose home state inspired a number of Ute fans to wear Green Bay Packer cheeseheads to meets in her honor, Wolf is starting to get used to hearing a thousand wolf howls whenever she competes. She says it's a first for her because crowds are sparse in Canadian meets and wouldn't think of howling.

Utah State completes a busy eight days of road meets Monday when it travels to Brigham Young for a dual meet. Utah is at Stanford March 6 and has its final home meet March 14 when Oregon State visits.