Chen Wang, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — With half of his new team being freshmen, Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden jokes that he's giving them a lightweight introduction to the rigorous collegiate schedule.
"I wanted to start easy and kind of build — not," he said, laughing at the predicament he's put his team into.
"Only UCLA and then Georgia and Nebraska on the road and then coming back to (face) Stanford. Pad our win-loss record," he kidded.
If you're wondering, that's Nos. 1-8-10-6 in the preseason coaches' rankings, starting with the top-ranked, defending NCAA champion Bruins tonight at 7 in the Huntsman Center.
UCLA returns all but one gymnast who competed in last April's NCAA finals. Missing will be junior Vanessa Zamarippa, third in the 2010 NCAA all-around and a member of the U.S. National Team last summer. She is likely out for the season with a torn Achilles.
Back for the Bruins, though, are four other All-Americans, including 2010 NCAA floor champion Brittani McCullough and Canadian Olympian Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs.
Utah is ranked No. 5, based mainly on reputation and last year's sixth-place finish at nationals. But half the Utes have never competed in a team atmosphere in front of large, loud crowds before, and that takes some getting used to.
UCLA has four freshmen on its 20-woman roster. One, 2008 U.S. Olympian Samantha Peszek, is out with a broken foot. She is expected back sometime this season.
With freshmen slated for 10 Utah routines, including Corrie Lothrop going all-around and anchoring the floor team, and with a little less experience than usual in his upperclassmen because two seniors have spent much of their careers overcoming injuries, Marsden doesn't know what to expect.
"We'd love to win the meet, but you have to be practical, too," he said. "They're the defending national champs with just unbelievable talent and depth.
"I think we are going to be a good team. What I don't know is how we're going to be in the early part of the season. I think we kind of get (the freshmen) out there and get them some experience and see how they handle it.
"If it goes well, that's great, we move forward," Marsden said. "But if we have some problems, then we've got to work on those and get better."
He hopes for a clean meet that doesn't make it easy on the Bruins. The Utes will "try to execute well and be consistent and not count any falls, not beat ourselves, and then see what that gets us," Marsden said.
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