Since Jan. 12, tonight is probably the one night the Utah gymnastics team looked forward to the most. And a week from tomorrow is one they anticipated, too.
The Utes defeated No. 1-ranked Georgia at home to open the season Jan. 11, and tonight the No. 2 Utes are at No. 3 Florida. On March 22, they're at No. 4 Michigan, which beat Georgia last weekend.
"It's a great opportunity for us to be tested in tough situations," said coach Greg Marsden, citing not only two of the country's best teams but also eight or nine hours' worth of travel to get to Gainesville for tonight, a similar trip home Saturday, two days to train next week and then five hours or so to Michigan. That's if all goes right.
And that's coming off Utah's first misstep of the season, last Friday's 196.30-195.15 win over Oregon State, in which the 10-0 Utes suffered some falls, some foibles and just didn't improve the way they had in every other meet.
"You don't expect people to go through the whole season and not make mistakes, and you don't really expect your team to get better for 14 or 15 weeks, with championships," said Marsden. "After I looked at the videos, I'm going, 'Maybe this isn't all that bad.' This gives us something to talk about and refocus."
"I kind of think it was bound to happen sometime," said Ute senior Katie Kivisto, who did not compete last Friday. "It wasn't a complete disaster. It was just not an improvement from the other meets. I guess that's pretty good that that was our low point."
Kivisto's expecting a high point tonight.
She is from Boca Raton, Fla., near Miami. Gainesville, where the university is located, is several hours north.
But Kivisto expects to have a lot of friends and family in the O'Connell Center tonight.
"It's Florida. People will come," she said, borrowing the three-word line from "Field of Dreams."
Her father gets to a number of her meets, but her mother isn't able to be off work as much. Her boyfriend of many years is from Gainesville and is now a student at Utah. He will be there tonight, along with several of his friends, who spent the earlier part of this week visiting in Salt Lake City but came home for the meet.
Kivisto also knows several of the Florida gymnasts from club gymnastics. "I grew up competing with a lot of the Orlando Metro girls. I remember in particular Ashley Reed and Tiffany Murry. It was always like 1-2-3, one of us, when we were Level 10.
"It will be a good competition," Kivisto predicted.
Junior Kristina Baskett doesn't expect the Utes to have two poor meets in a row, especially not one against Florida, for whom they've been pointing since mid-January. Last week, the Utes were a little flat, "Lah-de-dah," Baskett put it. Tonight she expects they will be "not like we were somewhere else, just kind of more relaxed, which is good."
"We need to just have a relaxed intensity, get our heads in the game. I think it will be OK at Florida because we're away, and we can just concentrate on our team and getting our jobs done. Go in there ready to do our jobs and just knock our routines out, get those landings and fix those little problems we had."
Baskett agreed with Marsden that last week's trial was good. "It shows us we need to work harder, and now we're willing to do that because we experienced it.," she said.The Utes have battled more illness the past week, three people missing practices, but the injuries continue to mend. Freshman Kyndal Robarts, who returned last week after missing the UCLA meet with a mild MCL sprain, has changed her floor routine a bit to accommodate some worry about landing her Arabian double back because of the knee, Marsden said. The changes are just to allow her to be considered for the floor lineup, should the Utes need her.