Balance beam gave the Utes a wild ride Friday night, but, "We all pulled together, especially when times got weak. We did a great job keeping the whole meet high-energy," said University of Utah co-captain Annabeth Eberle.
The second-ranked Utes came back strong on floor exercise to slide past third-ranked Michigan in the Huntsman Center, 196.875-196.525, before a crowd of 10,909 to end a two-meet regular-season losing skid to the Wolverines.
That his team found a way to come back was good experience toward the postseason, where the Utes have fallen a bit the last two years, finishing sixth nationally each time.
"It was back and forth, and the exciting thing was, either team could have kind of let it get away from them, but neither team did," said Marsden.
"That's what it's going to be like when you get to regionals or nationals, where a tenth or two or three is going to determine everything, so you feel like every step, every balance check, every little mistake you make may make the difference."
Michigan totaled 49.225 on its opening event, bars, to Utah's 49.20 starting on vault. The Utes put up 49.50 on bars in their second event while Michigan got 49.05 on vault, so at the halfway point, the Utes were ahead 98.70-98.275.
But Michigan pulled within .025 after three events when it had reasonable floor scores while Utah, ranked No. 1 nationally on beam until Friday, was having its season-low total of 48.775. Ranked third on beam, Michigan managed 49.075 when former Olympic team captain and NCAA all-around and beam champ Elise Ray scored 9.90 as the Wolverines' final counting competitor of the meet.
Michigan still had its best total of the season, and Ray and fellow all-arounder Jenny Deiley (season-bests in three events plus her four-event total of 39.325) were quite aware how close it was. "Oh, yeah. I hear it. I listen (to the public address announcements of the scores)," admitted Deiley.
All-around winner Ashley Postell (9.90 for 39.375), Eberle (9.925) and last-up Gritt Hofmann (9.925) ensured Utah's meet win and bumped the event score up to 49.40, second-best of the Ute season.
"I got to perform the way I wanted to," said Hofmann, who tied her season high on floor and set a career high on vault with 9.875. A senior who captured Ute fans with her energetic floor routine last season and then changed to one that may score even better this season when she puts in all the parts, Hofmann, from Germany, has become a real personality.
"I try to enjoy the last year as much as I can," she said.
"When Gritt is on, there's not a prettier gymnast," said Marsden.
Friday's meet marked the first all-arounds of the season by Ray, a fifth-year senior who had been hampered by an early December shoulder injury, and Ute sophomore Rachel Tidd.
The two came into the meet with Tidd ranked first and Ray second nationally on bars, and they tied for the win at 9.95s. Ray has now won seven straight meets on bars.
Ray said she was unaware until late Friday that they were ranked that way and that they had tied on the event.
Ray finished with 39.175 despite stepping out of bounds on floor, and Tidd totaled 39.275 despite 9.75 on beam, which was about average for the Utes this night. Tidd said back spasms that held her out of some events earlier weren't noticeable during and right after the meet. "I know I need to work on things, but I guess I'm kind of satisfied," she said of her first all-around since last March.
Marsden said Utah beamers seemed to concentrate too hard on individual skills instead of letting routines flow. "They did some really nice stuff, and then they did one or two goofy things. It didn't look as fluid or as natural as it should."
In its two home meets thus far, Utah has knocked off defending NCAA champion and preseason No. 1 UCLA and now No. 3 Michigan. "You don't get better college gymnastics than either one of these meets," Marsden said.
The wins now don't guarantee postseason success, though. "We don't deceive ourselves. There are some things we've got to get better at," Marsden said.
NOTES: Utah signee Kristina Baskett attended the meet, flying from home in Washington because on her recruiting trip she didn't see any competitions. Her father is a pilot for United Air Lines, so she was able to swing a ticket, though it was on another airline. Baskett said her two favorite events are floor, because she likes to dance, and vault. It's kind of a strange combination as dancers aren't usually into the explosion of vaulting, but, "I love to vault," Baskett said.