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BYU gymnasts open year at Utah

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Coach Brad Cattermole wonders just what he'll see Friday when his BYU gymnastics team opens its 2003 season at 7 p.m. at Utah's Huntsman Center.

Last year, with a team he thought he knew pretty well considering the visit to Utah was the last regular-season meet of 2002, and the Y. was coming off tying its school record of 197.375 the meet before.

But at Utah, the Cougars "were over-juiced on every event. I didn't expect that," Cattermole said. The fabled Utes had the highest score in their history, 198.425, and the Cougs had falls and three injuries in dropping a 195.25.

In 2003, with several of BYU's best gymnasts graduated, Cattermole worries about inconsistency and especially about his athletes' nerves as some of them see a crowd of 10,000-plus for the first time. "It's a tough meet to go into the first of the year," he said, noting the crowd, fireworks and commotion.

"My guess is, there'll be some mistakes," Cattermole said. "It's the first-meet jitters that have me worried. I hope they don't get too weird."

Utah is ranked third nationally. BYU was ranked 23rd on the pre-season poll but has briefly dropped out of the ratings this week because it doesn't have a meet score yet.

Cattermole fully expects BYU to come together in a few meets. "I'm excited about this team. At first, I didn't know how we would replace what we'd lost (including Kelly Evanson, Jeni Lopez and Angie Hickman), but the freshmen, they've just kind of come on. We could get on a roll and do real well, but we've got a lot of work to put in."

Cattermole figures the Cougars have to get used to being a team and used to "selling" routines and, most importantly, they have to become consistent. They've come up with very high scores in some judged practices and then followed with poor scores.

"We've got kids that can do the same kind of scoring (as last year), when they hit," Cattermole said.

For Friday's opener, BYU will be conservative in its game plan, doing skills it should hit, even though several of the Cougars are working on higher-difficulty routines in practices.

The coaching staff will do what it can to make this meet "as comfortable as possible," Cattermole said. There's no talk of winning or losing. "It isn't win-loss that gets you anywhere in the post-season," Cattermole said. It's national ranking, which is based on scores, with road scores especially important.

So the best thing for BYU to do is relax, be clean, score decently and begin building.

BYU has five freshmen, though probably only two will see duty Friday — Meghan Donahue of Arizona on vault and beam, and Albuquerque's Lisa Willis on bars, where she is quite consistent.

The other freshmen are Staci Butterfield of South Jordan, Jennifer Harvey of California and Misty Philbrick of Murray.

Sophomore Jaime Mabray, from Texas, may be the lone all-arounder in the opener. She went all-around in 10 of 12 meets as a freshman and had a career-high of 39.35 against Boise State. She's upgrading to a roundoff-entry vault, averaged 9.9 last year on beam and can be smooth on floor.

Kirsten Pauga should soon be a force on vault, Cattermole predicts, foreseeing a pretty strong vault lineup down the road, even though BYU is replacing its top three from last year. "It's not gone half-bad," he said of vault practice.

Juniors Trisha Ashton and Brogan Jacobsen should anchor a strong floor team, though Ashton may be out the first meet. Jacobsen is coming back from missing 2002 with chronic fatigue from over-training. She is so driven to succeed, as is Ashton, that she made herself physically unable to perform last year.

Jacobsen should help the bars lineup and may be on floor, and by the end of the season, she should do three events.

The Cougars open the home season with Boise State on Jan. 25, then have four straight road meets, spending more than a month away from the home crowd.

NOTES: It's not unusual for BYU athletes to be married, but six of the 16 gymnasts are married, most of them tying the knots last summer. (Driggs) Ashton, Candace (Cosgrave) Slater, Kari (Dye) Lords, Brooke (Craig) Haskett, Megan (Shupe) Pessoa and Lindsay (Lines) Butterfield have new names this year. The two Butterfields, Lindsay and Staci, are sisters-in-law.

E-mail: lham@desnews.com