SALT LAKE CITY — Throughout the 2009-2010 season, the enormous expectations of being a gymnast at the University of Utah have weighed heavily on the minds of this year's Red Rocks.
And in the weeks leading up to last weekend's NCAA Regional meet, the weight of those expectations grew heavier and heavier.
After all, Utah had endured an up-and-down season by its lofty standards, and many inside and outside the program wondered if the Utes would fail to qualify for the national championships for the first time in its 35 years of existence.
So four days before last weekend's huge meet, in which the Utes would need to finish at least second to qualify for Nationals, longtime coach Greg Marsden sat down with his gymnasts and spoke at length about the enormous expectations that were weighing them down.
"I just said, 'Let's get the elephant in the room out,'" said Marsden. "We had a conversation about expectations and I told them, 'I've been doing this for a long time — and there's pros and cons to that — but the one thing I hope I can give you is some perspective on some things. It's hard for you because you're living it — it's your first time through it. But I've been here before, and I'm just telling you that no matter what happens, life is gonna go on and we'll all be fine and the program is gonna be fine."
It was a badly needed message.
As a result, Utah loosened up considerably during its NCAA Regional meet at the Huntsman Center last Saturday — laughing and singing and dancing in between their performances — and the results were what the Utes would've hoped for.
Following an OK rotation on the floor, Utah was solid on the vault and on the uneven bars before finishing with a stellar performance on the balance beam that propelled the Red Rocks to a second-place finish behind Florida and a spot in next week's NCAA Championships.
"He just kind of told us to worry about ourselves rather than worrying about the legacy of Utah gymnastics and just go out there and be our own team, rather than to try to live up to expectations," said junior Kyndal Robarts, who gutted it out despite an ankle injury at Regionals to help lead the way for the Utes.
"He told us if we didn't make it, it wouldn't be the end of the world — I guess it wouldn't have — but in our minds, it was (going to be) at the time. But I think that helped everybody to relax."
Relax they did.
And in the process, they took a big step toward being able to do what whey can do and not what anybody else thinks they should do.
"We understand the expectations, and we've created those — we've created a monster," said Marsden. "But we can't be held hostage by it. We've got to realize that every team is different, every situation is different, every year is different.
"We've got to come in and work hard and do the best that we can. And I realize that the media is going to write what they're going to write and that fans are going to expect what fans are going to expect and all of those kinds of things. But we have to be true to ourselves. If we've worked hard, if we're doing the best that we can, if we compete well when it's time, we have to be happy with the results — no matter what."
The Red Rocks utilized that approach wonderfully in last week's Regionals, and now they hope to take the same approach at next week's National Championship meet in Florida.
Utah enters the all-important meet as a fifth seed.
"We're gonna try and approach it with the exact same approach as last week, kind of trust our gymnastics, trust all the work that we've done and go out there (with) no holding back," said Annie DiLuzio.
Asked how good the Utes could in next week's national championship meet if they take that approach, Marsden didn't bite.
"I don't know. I'm not gonna get off that train and just get back on," he said, laughing. "If we go out and hit our stuff and we're about as good as we can be, than we've got to be happy with whatever the results are. We'll see what it is.
"We'll let that speak for itself."
GYM NOTES: Robarts said her right ankle, which she rolled in practice last week, "is doing pretty well. It's still a little sore, but nothing that'll keep me out of doing anything. And it's improved from last week." … Two-event specialist Jacq Johnson, who missed last week's Regionals because of a bruised tailbone, should also be OK. "She's getting better almost daily," said Marsden. ... Other than those two, Marsden said the team had no significant injuries to report before it practiced at the Dumke Center Thursday afternoon.