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Gymnastics heads to Tucson for Pac-10 Championships

QUEEN OF THE BEAM: Senior Kaitlynn Bormann will be ASU's lead performer on the balance beam, where the Sun Devils have struggled all season, at the Pac-10 Championships this weekend in Tucson. (Photo by Scott Stuk)
QUEEN OF THE BEAM: Senior Kaitlynn Bormann will be ASU's lead performer on the balance beam, where the Sun Devils have struggled all season, at the Pac-10 Championships this weekend in Tucson. (Photo by Scott Stuk)

Three schools in the top 10, five in the top 25 and six out of seven in position to qualify for the NCAA Regional Championships.

That’s what the ASU gymnastics team has faced week in and week out through the rigors of the Pac-10 schedule.

Finally, the regular season will come to a zenith Saturday, when all seven teams meet in Tucson to decide the conference champion.

“I love the Pac-10,” ASU coach John Spini said. “The coaching group is very close. Our coaches ‘meetings are all about how we can get more in the public eye and get more exposure, because I think we are the only conference who can push that.”

For the No. 29 Sun Devils (2-11), the competition is one last opportunity for the team to up its regional qualifying score.

“Our goal is to average a 49-plus on every event,” Spini said. “[If] we have a solid 195.5-196.2 team, anywhere in that range, I’m going to be very happy because I’ve gotten all I can get from them.”

After conference meets, the top 36 teams nationally are seeded and given bids to NCAA Regionals.

“We are going to get to Regionals,” Spini said. “And that’s where you qualify for [the NCAA National Championships] — but this meet should move us up somewhere in that 20 to 18 spot.”

No. 7 Oregon State and No. 6 Stanford join defending champion No. 3 UCLA as the favorites.

“Scoring at the Pac-10’s will be a little bit tighter,” junior all-arounder Mary Atkinson said. “But I think we can easily come out with a mid-195 and place at least in the middle of the pack behind the three top schools ranked in the top 10.”

Un-balanced beam

There’s no question the Sun Devils are talented, but their heads have consistently gotten in the way of their performance all season.

“As a head coach I’m sitting here the past 30 years and I’ve never had a team with this many mental problems on balance beam,” Spini said. “But their hearts are in the right place, and they’re trying. They just have to feel confident when they walk out there and that just comes from experience.”

In its last meet at Brigham Young, ASU scored a season-low 46.85 after five out of six gymnasts floundered.

It was, by far, the Sun Devils’ lowest score in any one event this season.

“We self-destructed,” Spini said. “Its kind of like quicksand. You can hit it and hit it and hit it [in practice], but if you’ve got the wrong mindset, you’re going to fall.”

The coaching staff has worked to try to recreate those in-meet situations by adding an element of

surprise to the team’s workouts.

“We’ll just all of the sudden tell them without even warming up, ‘Go do a cold beam set,’” Spini said. “If they don’t hit their pressure set, then they have to start their whole beam workout over again.”

In an attempt to start off on the right foot, the coach is putting his most experienced beam-worker at the top of the lineup.

“We are moving [senior] Kaitlynn [Bormann] back to the start,” Spini said. “We really do have to depend on that senior athlete to do a great job. We just don’t have a beam routine that good that can replace what she is capable of doing.”

ASU is currently ranked No. 35 on beam, while averaging a ranking in the low 20’s in the other three events.

“We will end [the meet] on beam, which I think has actually been good for us this season,” Atkinson said. “We‘ve been doing well in practice, so our confidence level is going up.”

Sweet dreams

Although the meet will take place on UA’s home floor, the Sun Devils are making full use out of the relatively close proximity.

“One thing I’m doing is I’m going to have them sleep in their own beds,” Spini said. “I think it’s a huge advantage. I want them to sleep, get on the bus, come down, compete and come home. I’m not going the day before with this team and put them out on the competition floor with all the other teams. I’m not sure if they are there mentally for that.”

Even the team’s most even-keeled gymnast likes the strategy.

“Everybody will be able to get a good night sleep,” Atkinson said. “Just going down the day of, it’s almost making it less of a big deal, which I think will help people stay focused.”

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