Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Ute junior gymnast Stephanie McAllister recalls being Utah's first person to compete at Georgia two years ago, the first road meet of her collegiate career.
"I do remember that feeling like it was yesterday," she said. "Everything was so new at that point, and I remember being overwhelmed by the whole Georgia atmosphere.
"But I'm actually really excited to go (now) and show Georgia what we're made of," added McAllister, hoping she's helped prepare her teammates — six of them freshmen making their first road trips — for today's 2 p.m. MST foray into Stegeman Coliseum, where the fans are so boisterous. Oh, and the home team is pretty good, too.
"I actually think that it can pump us up," McAllister said. "My freshman year, I do think that got to me a little bit because they're so in your face, but I think we can use that as adrenaline, almost. If you can take in their excitement, I think it can motivate you."
Easier said than done. But these Utes (1-0, ranked third in the country) did a good job of putting aside distractions on Jan. 7 when they opened at home against top-ranked, defending NCAA-champion UCLA, pulling off the upset.
So there's reason to think the Utes can contain their nerves today as fifth-ranked and anxious Georgia (3-0) opens its home season.
Georgia missed going to the NCAA championships last year and is itching to regain its lofty reputation. It won five straight NCAA championships prior to 2010.
"They're still a great team," said U. coach Greg Marsden, calling it "a fluke" that Georgia didn't qualify last year. He watched video of the Gym Dogs in their opening quadrangular at Denver, "and they're beautiful.
They're talented, execute well, and they're hungry."
At this stage, though, Marsden's more interested in how his team performs — if it can stay in what McAllister calls the "Utah bubble," shutting out the rest of the world as well as it did in its opener.
The Utes made execution errors, such as taking steps on landings, but suffered only one fall, and even that led to some advantages. McAllister stayed on the beam following the fall by Gael Mackie, and then junior Cortni Beers put together an outstanding beam routine that put the fall in the rearview mirror and buoyed her confidence. Sophomore Fumina Kobayashi will lead off on beam today.
"Cortni inspired the group and almost canceled out the fall," said co-coach Megan Marsden. "An inspirational performance at an ideal time."
"It kind of opens up my future, and I think it will help me be able to relax more," said Beers, who's had consistency problems in the past. "If I can hit that well in my first meet, then I should be able to perform just as well, if not better, as long as I can repeat the procedure."
A new way of thinking helped. Megan Marsden gives her beamers mental tricks to help them get through the long routines, such as counting during the performance. Beers found that didn't help.
"She knew it was just there for a distraction, and all she could think about was, 'This is just supposed to fake me out, and it's not working,' " Megan Marsden said.
So just last week, Beers found a way to instead empty her head.
"It was best for me to turn off my brain and just do it," she said. She scored a career-high 9.85.
Beers came into this season with a jolt to alter her thinking.
"Last year, I was like, 'Well, if I mess up, the upperclassmen behind me can help support me and take over,' " she said. "This year, the freshmen are saying, 'If I mess up, the upperclassmen can take over.' That's me. I wasn't quite ready for that."
But she has now embraced the role.
Utah (1-0) at Georgia (3-0)
Today, 2 p.m.
Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.
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