Utah Utes gymnasts eager for road trip to Florida

Published: Friday, March 19 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

The University of Utah's Daria Bijak competes on the balance beam during a gymnastics meet against BYU.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Coach Greg Marsden says it's just a nice coincidence that his ninth-ranked Ute gymnastics team gets to visit No. 4 Florida on Friday at 5 p.m. MT.

The regular-season schedules are made so far in advance, he had no idea when he arranged this meet that the Gators would host the 2010 NCAA championships in just over a month, but this dual meet gives Utah a chance to absorb some of the atmosphere in Gainesville.

Marsden also says that, although sports information director Liz Abel wouldn't put this in her news release this week, "I'll say it to you: We've got about a snowball's chance in hell" of coming out of this dual meet with a victory.

An 11-hour travel day, illnesses to Kyndal Robarts and Cortni Beers, just getting Gael Mackie back on bars from a bad ankle, Florida holding its emotional senior night and getting its last tuneup for the Southeast Conference championships all make this a tough challenge.

But, Marsden adds, "It's a great opportunity because we're going to go down there where the championships will be a month later. We'll try to take advantage of that.

"They're a very good team. It's hard for anybody to go into the SEC with a good program like Alabama, Georgia or Florida and come away with a win."

It is, however, Utah's final road meet until nationals — it hosts BYU next Friday and the NCAA regional in April — "so we've got to take advantage of that and feel good about ourselves in that kind of situation," Marsden said.

"It will be so different in the sense that (the NCAA championships) will be on a podium and (with) all new equipment, but still you're in the arena, you're in the community, you do the trip, so I think there are a lot of things that — if we're fortunate enough to get there in a month — you can feel, 'Hey, we were just here.'

"I don't know how much it will help, but it certainly can't hurt," Marsden said.

Co-coach Megan Marsden said she'll ask Florida coach Rhonda Faehn how the O'Connell Center will be set up for nationals.

"We're going to go this week planning to be there in a few weeks and try to prepare for that. I know it's going to be on a podium, so that certainly changes things a little bit, but I will have the girls imagine the arena raised up.

"I'll talk to Rhonda about were vault's going to be, beam, floor, in comparison to how they have it that night, and try to give the girls a heads-up — if it's going to be similar or slightly different, so that they can begin to create a picture in their mind."

Anything to just help make it more familiar for the Utes in preparation for nationals April 22-24.

"It can make a lot of difference for certain athletes," said Megan Marsden. "For athletes that deal with anxiety at the decisive moment, that can be very helpful to feel a certain level of comfort when the pressure escalates."

Senior Daria Bijak — coming off her career highs on bars (9.95) and all-around (39.575) last Friday in the home quad meet — just likes the idea of going to Florida.

"I know it's their senior night and everything like that, but I like to compete there," she said, though she's not one to fret about the atmosphere. "All that it's going to help is to know what the arena will look like because we will have all new equipment for nationals, so it's not like we get to practice on that. I think that's all we can take from there. I don't really worry about that," she said.

Bijak looks forward to advancing the steps she's made in the last few weeks. She has raised her all-arounds steadily the last four meets — 39.225, 39.275, 39.425 and the 39.575 — even though she was sick the last two weeks, "so I go into this week very confident, and I know this week of practice is going to help getting some strength back."

Utah is coming off its best bars score of the season, a 49.25, and can look forward to more with Mackie's return. She got a 9.85 in an exhibition routine last Friday and will replace Beers, who fell last week.

"I think she, with her actions, showed us all that she's ready to go on bars," Megan said of Mackie. "We are a better bar team with Gael in the lineup."

Robarts had a strep infection for the meet at Michigan Feb. 19 but scored a 39.275. She again has a strep infection and is taking medication.

USU hosts senior night

LOGAN — In its home finale, Utah State (1-15, 0-4 WAC) hosts Sacramento State (6-11, 1-3 WAC) tonight at 7.

USU will be honoring its lone senior, Heather Heinrich, in a post-meet ceremony.

The Aggies are coming off a season-high on bars and beam against San Jose State.

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