There are only three places in this world where the University of Utah gymnastics team, ranked No. 2 this week with a 6-0 record, has competed more than once but never won.
One is at Alabama, where the Utes are 0-8.
The other is where the Utes will be tonight at 5:30 MST Michigan, where Utah is 0-4. The 8-0-1 Wolverines are ranked fourth.
"We all couldn't believe that," said Ute senior co-captain Kristen Riffanacht, who had learned of Utah's futility at Michigan just a few days earlier. The upperclassmen have been to Michigan just once, two years ago, when they were 5-0 and ranked fourth and fell 196.725-196.35 to the 12th-ranked, 6-2 Wolverines.
Riffanacht doesn't want her teammates thinking solely of ending that streak. "That's just trouble," she said.
But junior all-arounder Nicolle Ford, who has rallied the Utes into comeback victories when they faltered in other road meets this season, is clear about the challenge. "It will definitely help in the motivation area," she said.
Illness, injuries and falls on vault and beam did the Utes in in 2004, and it's somewhat been a similar story in other ventures to Crisler Arena, said coach Greg Marsden.
Tonight Marsden would like to see the Utes, whose illness and injuries seem to be on the mend, put together a full meet on the road they've made errors in all away meets so far, despite winning. If they can be clean, it's possible the winless streak there would end. If both teams are clean and Michigan wins anyway, he won't be that disappointed.
What he'd like to see is an indication this team is ready to start strong and stay that way on the road, since that's the kind of mental state needed to do well in the postseason.
It's a team capable of being aggressive, with strong leadership from sophomore Ashley Postell and from Ford, whose parents will be in Michigan from their home in New York for the meet. They've only seen the 2004 meet at Michigan when Nicolle was a freshman and one other because of the distance and time constraints.
The 2006 Utes "have a little attitude," Marsden observes. Ute teams are always among the nation's best, but not all have had the spirit this one exhibits, led by Ford and Postell, who hate losing.
"We're going to work on it. We have high hopes," was all Ford would declare about the team's intentions, but there's determination underlying her statements."We're past due," said Marsden. "We'd like to get that done, along with being more consistent. There's really no excuse. It has been that we've always blown an event there and haven't done the job."
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