Elise Ray, the 2000 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team captain, once considered accepting a scholarship to the University of Utah.
Instead, she chose to go to Michigan, and in an injury-interrupted five-year career, she's been a three-time NCAA national champion (all-around, beam, bars).
Ray will be back in the Huntsman Center for a final appearance tonight at 7, slated to do all-around for the first time this season after being slowed by shoulder problems.
There on the Huntsman Center floor very early in this showdown between the second-ranked, 3-0 Utes and third-ranked, 5-0 Wolverines, Ray will likely be involved in her own showdown against Utah sophomore Rachel Tidd.
Tidd ranks No. 1 overall nationally on the uneven bars with a 9.925 average, and Ray ranks No. 2 at 9.917, but the 2004 NCAA bars champion is unbeaten on her specialty this season and has won six straight bars titles in meets dating back to last year's Big Ten championships. In her career, Ray has won bars in 21 meets.
Bars will be tonight's first event for visiting Michigan, while Utah starts on vault and then moves to bars.
Utah coach Greg Marsden said Tidd dogged by back spasms since just before Christmas, missing the Utah State meet two weeks ago and doing just bars and vault in the two other meets so far says nothing about being ranked No. 1 this week when she has a real opportunity to prove she belongs there.
But Marsden says Tidd likely is loving it. "Rachel is a very quiet, unassuming person, but she's a very quietly competitive person," said Marsden.
"She never talks about it, never acts like it's a big deal, but if it wasn't a big deal, she wouldn't be where she is. It's got to be important to you at some level. She never says anything about it, but she's got to be excited.
"She's done an amazing job for us whenever she's been able to compete."
Tidd's back has been OK in practices this week, and she's expected to do the first two events tonight, though for her to return to the all-around will take more time and conditioning, and Marsden isn't in a hurry. "An awkward landing could send her back into spasms.
"We'd love to have her but don't want to get greedy and set her back unnecessarily," he said. But he added, "We do have to keep making progress."
Michigan has won the last two regular-season meets against Utah, at Ann Arbor last season and in the Huntsman Center in 2003. "This will be a real challenge for us, even at home," said Marsden, whose Utes upset preseason No. 1 UCLA on Jan. 7 and were ranked No. 1 for two weeks before falling to second this week when rankings went to averages instead of high scores to determine placings. "It's been awhile (since Utah beat Michigan) in the regular season."
Ute senior all-arounder Annabeth Eberle is being careful on a sore ankle but is expected to go all-around as she has all season.Marsden was expecting to use junior Dominique D'Oliveira to lead off the bars set again. She had a fall at USU, so Marsden used Kristen Riffanacht last week at Oregon State, but Riffanacht fell while D'Oliveira did well in an exhibition routine.