Tierney tumbles to top

When the UA gymnastics team squares off with defending national champion Utah Friday night, perhaps the best gymnast from the "Beehive State" will be wearing Wildcat red and blue.

Junior Karen Tierney, a Salt Lake City native, has been the best gymnast on the floor in the Wildcats' first two meets this season. And although facing the team that she rooted for in her youth seems a little awkward, Tierney doesn't think that's the case.

"Even though I used to go watch the Utes all the time when I was younger, I have to look at this match like any other," Tierney said. "I want to win."

While Tierney considered Utah among other universities, when it was time to decide on a college, she found she was a Wildcat at heart.

"I took a trip to Utah, Louisiana State and Alabama as well, but the coaches and academic reputation here really impressed me," Tierney said. "It was then I figured that Arizona was the best place for me."

And coming off two first-place finishes in the all-around, Tierney seems to be fitting in quite well at Arizona. But her recent success is not that surprising to UA coach Jim Gault.

"Karen came into camp this year with a different frame of mind from the last few years," Gault said. "She showed that she was going to come in and do what she had to do, and not let school or emotional problems get to her."

Tierney also attributes her prosperity this year to the conditioning program she went through this summer.

"I think a major difference between last year and this year for me has been my activities in the offseason," Tierney said. "Over the summer I lost some weight, lifted weights and basically stayed in shape."

It is not like this newfound publicity is anything foreign to her, as Tierney has always been recognized as a talented gymnast. She is a two-time United States National team member and finished second in the all-arounds at the National Junior Olympics and the Junior Pacific Alliance tournament. These experiences gave her a stepping stone for entering the college limelight.

"Being on the national team was really exciting," Tierney said. "And although there was a lot of pressure involved, the experience gave me the confidence that I could compete at the college level."

As a freshman, Tierney worked her way into the lineup and displayed her talents on the beam, where she scored a 9.85, and the floor (a 9.60 average). But last year she established herself as a premier tumbler, placing in the top three spots on the floor six times with three firsts. Her 9.90 mark against Arizona State tied a school record. And while she hyperextended her knee in warm ups for the Pacific 10 Conference championships, she still managed to place seventh on the floor. But this year has marked Tierney's emergence into college gymnastics.

"When I started here, it was tough," Tierney said. "I can relate with what some of the younger girls are doing this year. People really don't give the freshmen the credit they deserve. My second year was still an adjustment, but this year everything is clicking."

According to Tierney, however, there is still room for improvement.

"I am pretty happy with some of my events but I am still struggling a bit with the bars," Tierney said.

Gault begs to differ with her, though, as he contends she is showing improvement in that event among other areas.

"Karen is becoming a very steady performer," Gault said. "She's not really hot or cold. It is almost like you wind her up and she goes out and does her thing. But she has been recently working on improving her bars routine and is doing very well."

For Gault, the whole process of watching Tierney improve and reach her potential has been a great experience.

"Seeing Karen accomplish what she has so far has been wonderful," Gault said. "And although she knows that this year is far from over, she knows she has the ability to have a great year."

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