Utah Utes gymnastics: Failure not an option

By Linda Hamilton

Deseret News

Published: Sunday, April 11 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah assistant coach Megan Marsden celebrates with Daria Bijak after her balance beam routine during the NCAA regional gymnastics tournament between Florida, Utah, Auburn, Boise State, Denver and Washington in Salt Lake City on Saturday. The University of Utah will advance to the April 22-24 national championships at Florida.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The buzz from outside the University of Utah's gymnastics team was that it was very possible that this would be the first year in its history that it might not qualify for the national championships.

The 10th-ranked Utes had seen their lowest-ever national rankings (11th twice) and had suffered two injuries in the week before the NCAA postseason began.

That had all weighed on the minds of the gymnasts, some of them not yet even 20 years old, pointed out coach Greg Marsden.

Co-coach Megan Marsden said her husband earlier in the week had held a team meeting and basically given the team permission to fail, just because the gymnasts were so afraid of failure, especially on balance beam.

It apparently worked.

The Utes found a way to dig deep — especially on beam — and qualify for their 35th straight NCAA championships by finishing second — and leaving no doubt about that — in their own regional in the Huntsman Center Saturday night.

The Utes hit their third-highest score of the 2010 season — 196.90 — to remove any chance that a team such as surging Denver or third-seeded Auburn could catch them in the final rotation and seize that second qualifying spot behind Florida, which easily won the meet at 197.675.

All the talk of Utah possibly not making it "fueled our fire," said senior Jamie Deetscreek.

The 2010 NCAA championships are at Florida April 22-24, and Utah is still the only team in the country to have qualified for every NCAA nationals ever held. The Utes also made every AIAW field for which they were eligible prior to the NCAA taking over women's sports.

"I'm happy for them. They felt a huge burden," Marsden said, adding, "It's especially rewarding to have a night like tonight at the right time" after such a roller coaster season.

It was rewarding, too, for the beam coach, Megan Marsden, that her team enjoyed its finest night of the season when it counted the most.

Beam had been the Utes' worst event the second half of the season, but on this night, they put together a 49.35, the highest score of the season for them. They did it with everyone scoring 9775 or better and the final three — Daria Bijak, Jamie Deetscreek and Kyndal Robarts — scoring 9.90, 9.90 and 9.925, respectively, to absolutely seize the event and the qualification.

"I think the girls finally competed on beam the way they're capable of," she said.

In the national stunner of the NCAA postseason, five-time defending NCAA champion Georgia lost a tiebreaker with Missouri at the Columbia, Mo., regional and finished in third place — not qualifying for the national championships. Oregon State won that regional, and Missouri is the other team advancing. The tiebreaker is decided by adding in each team's sixth gymnast's scores, which normally do not count.

Teams advancing from other regionals included Oklahoma and Louisiana State from the University Park (Pa.) regional, Stanford and Michigan from the Morgantown (W. Va.) site, where Southern Utah placed third (195.325), Alabama and Nebraska from Lexington (Ky.), Oregon State and Missouri from the Columbia, (Mo.) regional and UCLA and Arkansas from the Los Angeles regional. Seedings for the national championships are not yet determined.

Utah was led by a remarkable performance from junior Kyndal Robarts, who sprained an ankle in Thursday's practice. Trainer Tom Iriye had told Marsden Friday there was no way she would go all-around, yet there she was Friday night finishing second in the all-around to Florida's Ashanee 39.70-39.45. Deetscreek finished third in the all-around with 39.35, her second-best of the season.

Robarts was allowed to make her own decision about what events she'd do, and she chose all of them, which was, "A real morale boost for (the team) to see her come out on floor (Utah's first event)," said Marsden.

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