Utah Utes gymnastics: Youthful Utes pulled off rare feat

Published: Monday, Jan. 17 2011 6:55 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Georgia is one of the most intimidating places for a visiting collegiate gymnastics team to compete. The crowd is a little more vocal than other places, and the Gym Dogs are so good they hadn't lost in Stegeman Coliseum in the regular season since 1995.

Yet on Saturday, a Utah team that is half freshmen went into Athens, Ga., and pulled off a come-from-behind victory, 195.90-195.80, with big help from a couple freshmen in the final, pressure-packed event and a strong freshman effort for the whole meet.

Coach Greg Marsden said on Monday he was still not sure how that happened.

"I'm not sure if that's because the freshmen really don't understand," he said. "They're just out there doing it and having fun, I think."

And perhaps not fully realizing what it is that they've accomplished the last two weeks — first knocking off the top-ranked and defending NCAA-champion UCLA Bruins on the Huntsman Center floor on Jan. 7 and then pulling out a victory at Georgia.

To put the win at Georgia in perspective, it's a place where no Ute team has won in the regular season since 1991, when all-time greats Missy Marlowe, Shelly Schaerrer and Kristen Kenoyer led Utah, although it did win its last NCAA championship on Georgia's floor in 1995.

"I don't know if that's it or not. Who knows for sure?" Marsden continued about his theory.

"I've been to big competitions, so it was not a scary place," said freshman Nansy Damianova Monday at practice.

"But when you're not aware of what you can actually do, you're less stressed because you feel like you have less pressure."

Damianova scored 9.75 to open her meet at Georgia on bars, then popped 9.825 on vault and 9.80 on floor.

Being a 2008 Canadian Olympian, she wasn't real well versed in the lore of Georgia and Utah. "I wasn't aware about '90-'91 and the 2005 home meets, that they never lost, but I knew that they were always a good team," she said.

"I wasn't necessarily looking forward to winning — it was just about going there and doing our best, and if both teams did their best, it would be really tight, and that's what happened."

Freshman MaryBeth Lofgren, on the other hand, was well aware of the Georgia mystique and the history between the Utes and Dogs since she grew up in Salt Lake City and came to Ute meets most of her life.

She was a strong contributor with a 9.775 on floor and then a much-needed 9.85 on beam to tie for the win on that event.

"It was in the back of my mind," Lofgren said about the history at Georgia, "but we wanted to go in there and focus on ourselves and what we wanted to accomplish, so I think that was what I was mostly thinking about."

KYNDAL: Senior Kyndal Robarts had a fall on floor when her knee touched the mat as she landed her double Arabian opening tumbling pass, and she had a major wobble on beam, windmilling her arms Saturday at Georgia.

But Robarts' vault drew a 9.95 — tied for the highest score to date in the country — and she ranks No. 1 in the NCAA on that event this week with an average of 9.938.

"She's nailed it both weeks, so I'm not surprised to hear that she's at the top," said Marsden.

"It's only two weeks (since the rankings started), so it's not like it's this huge thing — but I guess it's kind of a cool thing," said Robarts.

"Those individual standings don't really mean much because it's mostly about team. Just hopefully I can go out there next weekend and have another good vault so it will help our team score."

MORE RANKINGS: The Utes, who had difficulty all last season with balance beam, are now tied for second in the rankings on that event with a 48.938 season average.

Despite being 2-0 with wins over two highly ranked teams, the Utes fell from third to fourth in this week's overall rankings because they are based solely on season-average score until Feb. 14.

Southern Utah, which also beat UCLA, ranks No. 20; BYU is No. 33 and Utah State No. 35.

In event rankings, Utah's fourth on vault with SUU 20th, 11th on bars with BYU 20th and 14th on floor behind SUU, which is tied for 10th.

Women's gymnastics rankings

By season average

Rank. . .Average. . . High score

1. Florida 196.850 196.925

2. Stanford 196.625 196.625

3. Oklahoma 195.825 196.175

4. Utah 195.800 195.900

5. Georgia 195.688 195.800

6. Oregon St. 195.567 195.925

7. Michigan 195.300 195.700

8. UCLA 195.217 195.925

9. Nebraska 195.200 195.450

10. North Carolina St. 195.150 195.150

20. SUU 194.113 194.750

33. BYU 193.150 193.225

35. USU 192.400 192.800

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