The last time Jenny Hansen, the NCAA's top-ranked women's gymnast, was in Maryland, things didn't go her way.
But that was two years ago -- at a tri-meet against Towson State and Vermont when Hansen was just a freshman at Kentucky. That was before she had won the all-around competition at the NCAA championships two years in a row.
Now a junior, Hansen leads Kentucky into the NCAA Southeast Regional, tomorrow at Towson State.
Hansen is attempting to become the first gymnast to win three NCAA all-around titles. She won in 1993 with a 39.50 score, and then took the title last year with a 39.45. She also placed first on vault (9.9375) and on beam (9.975) last year.
She tried to shrug off her first competition at Towson Center two years ago. "I didn't do well . . . and I'm a little nervous about that.
"But it's a different meet -- a different situation. I'm stronger, more confident. I'm not a freshman anymore."
Besides, she said, "I look at my team. If I do my best for the team, I usually do my best all-around. I really think the University of Kentucky could make it to nationals this year. . . . I don't think we've ever been this strong."
This season, Hansen has won seven out of 10 vault titles and scored a season-high 9.95 on the balance beam at the Southeastern Conference championships to take the title. She also tied a career-high 10 in floor exercise and tied a career-high 39.875 in the all-around.
Assessing her season, Hansen said, "Bars is one of my more difficult events, but I'm swinging more smoothly. I'm presenting myself a little better on the floor and I learned a new vault."
The vault, a handspring front full-twist, has never been completed on the collegiate level, except by Hansen.
Kentucky coach Leah Little said they will decide today whether she should do the vault at tomorrow's regional. "She can score a 10 without it," Little said.
"I'd like to save it for nationals because the pressure is less [in the individual competition]," Hansen said.
Hansen, though, said she feels tremendous pressure to become the first gymnast to win three national titles in a row.
"We just don't talk about it," said Little. "We've been trying to keep her focus on improving as an athlete and helping get her team there."
Hansen said: "I put more pressure on myself than the coaches or anyone else does."
Yet, describing her perspective, Hansen said, "If you're happy, then you'll do your best. The crowd and team are cheering for that one moment -- and I'm happy and having fun during that time."
FACTS AND FIGURES
What: NCAA Southeast Regional gymnastics
When: Tomorrow, 6 p.m.
Where: Towson Center
Tickets: 1,000 available. $7 reserved, $4 general admission. Call (410) 830-8447.
Teams: Florida, George Washington, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina State, Towson State, West Virginia