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Utah has fun; USU doesn’t

Kulikowski scores a perfect 10 on the beam as Utes win

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What a contrast.

Tuesday night in the Huntsman Center, Utah gymnast Theresa Kulikowski was explaining why she didn't think her beam routine deserved the 10 it got.

"It didn't feel like it was legitimate, really, because I wobbled on my series — but the rest of my routine felt really good," said the Ute sophomore. "When you get a 10, you want it to really feel like a 10. But it was fun," added the 1999 NCAA all-around and beam champion.

On the other end of it, Utah State coach Ray Corn had opposite reaction to the scoring in a meet won 197.125-194.325 by the Utes. He was mad.

Corn was so agitated over low scoring of his team that, after doing a slow burn commenting how it was USU's best meet of the season, he suddenly blurted, "Ah, C----! I'm disappointed in the score. That's all I can say," and he bolted for the door to leave the interview room.

Corn stopped, composed himself and said, "I thought we were heading for a mid-195, and I just don't know what it's going to take any longer. We'll just keep on going out there and battling. Battling the equipment, battling all the circumstances and, hopefully, we will be successful. I just thought we did much better than a 194.35 today."

It was Utah's 10th-highest score and best this season thanks to "Kulio's" 10 plus her 9.925 on bars, career-best 9.925s on bars and floor from senior Theresa Wolf (39.0 all-around, despite a beam fall) and a winning all-around of 39.225 from junior Deidra Graham.

Usually when Utah does well in the Huntsman — this was the third-ranked Utes' 160th straight regular-season home-meet victory — visiting teams benefit from escalating numbers with a high road total that improves their Regional Qualifying Score toward post-season qualification. For teams like USU, usually ranked in the midteens, a loss at Utah is a good trade for a boost in RQS. Not this time.

"Overall, this is the best meet of the year, and yet, I don't know." said Corn. "Some of the routines were some of the best performances we've given the entire year. I wanted them to put a meet together, and they did. I'm awful proud of my team."

A crowd of 10,360 saw the Aggies start strong on bars and finish the first rotation only .15 point behind the Utes, who upgraded most of their vaults and had their best team score in that event this season, 48.925. "We've got to get over the 49 barrier on vault," said Ute coach Greg Marsden, thinking of national-caliber competition. Utah was second in the 2000 NCAA Championships.

The U. added potentially .5 point to the team score by doing three vaults valued at 10.0 and moving up to 9.9s on others. Now they have to stick the landings. "I was really impressed that we did all the upgrades and executed as well as we did. I'm really pleased with all the upgrades, but I'm most pleased with vault," Marsden said.

On bars, with 9.925s from Wolf and Kulikowski and 9.9s from Shannon Bowles and Veronique Leclerc to tie career highs and 9.9 from Graham, Utah hit a season-high 49.55.

The Ags did "exceptionally well" on vault, said Corn, but a few steps on landings cut them to 48.60, and while Corn considered floor to have gone "extremely well," the Ags lost .1 point stepping out of bounds and .3 for a performer touching the mat for balance. A similar grasp of the beam and a couple wobbles left USU shy of 195.

With 49.325s on beam and floor, the Utes hit their earliest-ever 197. The first 197 in Ute history was 197.15 on Feb. 13, 1993. They had 197.075 on Feb. 7 last year at USU, then beat that by a day and .05 point Tuesday.

Graham won her third all-around despite a few extra steps that dropped a strong beam set to 9.775 and a balance check on floor that cut her to 9.75. USU's Nicole Kilpatrick (38.425) and Tina Ellis (38.275) were third and fourth behind Wolf. Kilpatrick had the Aggies' best event score, a 9.825 vault.

Graham was one to successfully upgrade her vault to a 10.0 start value. Her handspring front pike with a half twist scored 9.85, tying U. freshman Veronique Leclerc's total for best of the night. "It's good to get one of those under my belt," Graham said. "Going 4-for-4 (no falls) helps build my confidence."

Freshman Melissa Vituj unveiled a triple twist to open her floor set and put her original opening tumbling pass last. "That's big," Marsden said. Vituj and Kylee Wagner did vaults they'd never competed before, Wagner added a new first tumbling pass and Kulikowski put a Tkachev release into her bars set.

More upgrades could come at 7 Friday night when 4-1 Utah is at BYU.

USU, 3-4, is at Denver looking for its first road win Saturday at 7 p.m.


E-MAIL: lham@desnews.com