After taking last week off to just train, Utah's second-ranked, 9-0 gymnastics team enters the meat of its schedule starting Friday when No. 7 ranked, 9-2 Oregon State visits the Huntsman Center. That's followed by a meet at No. 3 Florida on March 14 and at No. 4 Michigan on March 22.
"Hopefully, it was a bit of a mental break, and now the challenge will be getting sharp again and being ready for this weekend," said coach Greg Marsden, who had just read newspaper stories Monday morning about how the Utah Jazz have struggled getting their game back since the All-Star break.
"That's the thing as a coach you always worry about," said Marsden, whose first words to his team at Monday's practice were along those lines. "You hope we can switch the switch back on and pick up where we left off."
For junior Kristina Baskett, to pick back up Monday for a competition week and realize there's only a month left in the regular season was an eye opener. "I can't believe we only have four meets left," she said. "It's so crazy. It went by so fast.
"This little break here came at a good time, to rest, so we can go all-out for the rest of the season."
She looks forward to three tough weeks. "As Utah, this is what we do, go against the best teams. This is what we should do," Baskett said, "so I'm glad that we're going against Oregon State and Florida and Michigan because that's who we're going to see in April (NCAA postseason)."
THEY'RE BETTER: Junior Nina Kim (mid-foot sprain, illness), sophomore Stephanie Neff (sore back, Achilles) and freshman Kyndal Robarts (mild MCL sprain) were well enough to expect to practice fairly normally this week and perhaps be back in the lineup by this Friday or next. But sophomore Daria Bijak, who missed training all last week with illness, was still not feeling well Monday, though she did attend practice.
Neff did her tumbling passes on a soft mat last week and was planning to try the regular floor this week. Marsden said she's more likely to be ready for Florida but didn't rule her out for Oregon State.
"I'm not really worried," said Neff, who said trying to do her piked double back on floor seemed to strain her back, and she might do a milder pass for a while. "Don't want to move too fast. But I'm excited to get back. I'm tired of sitting out and not doing anything."
Robarts didn't know how hard she could work this week, but she wants to compete Friday. "That's what my hope is, this week, at least with some stuff."
HIT HARD: Marsden was so saddened to hear of the torn Achilles tendon suffered by Georgia's two-time NCAA all-around champion Courtney Kupets on Saturday that he expressed his feelings Sunday on an Internet gymnastics forum, College Gymnastics Board. "A melancholy day," he titled his post, and said he couldn't focus on much else after learning the 2004 Olympian is out for the season.
"It's tragic when you see that any gymnast has a season-ending injury," Marsden said Monday. "It's not more tragic than any other injury, but to me, though, it was especially meaningful. Courtney, along with some other people Ashley Postell (Utah), for one; Tasha Schwikert (UCLA), Courtney McCool (Georgia), Terrin Humphrey (Alabama) I think all of those people helped give even greater respect to college gymnastics, and people want to see them.
"So when we lose one of them, it's a loss to college gymnastics as a whole."
He still considers Georgia, the three-time defending NCAA champion and host for nationals in April, to be "the favorite to repeat as the champion. I don't think anybody would question that or deny that. They'll be fine."
He noted that Georgia and its coaching staff pulled through the loss of two seniors a week before nationals last year. "Their team really rallied around that, and the coaching staff even says that in the end they felt they were a better team."RANKINGS UPDATE: The Utes stayed No. 2 in the team poll to Georgia, which increased its lead by five-thousandths of a point thanks to Saturday's highest-in-the-nation 197.90 score. Southern Utah moved back into the top 25 at No. 23, while Brigham Young is 34th and Utah State 42nd.