Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's gymnastics team has prided itself all season on performing as it practices, and the result has been steady improvement.
Then there was this week.
Actually, it kind of did perform as it practices, but the result wasn't another step forward, despite a 196.425-195.425 win for the third-ranked Rocks against No. 8 Michigan in the Huntsman Center.
Coach Greg Marsden gave his team Monday off as a reward after it really hit its stride Feb. 12 against Washington, getting seven 9.90-or-better scores and the highest team score of the season.
There's nothing wrong with that, but Utah took its first regression of the year Friday on Short People Appreciation Night, attended by 13,975.
The Utes opened by tying their lowest score of the season on vault, 49.1, and had one of their lower bars totals, 49.05. They matched that score on beam before hitting their high for the night with 49.225 on floor — which had been their biggest trouble spot.
Junior Stephanie McAllister scored her second straight 9.9 on floor, and freshman Nansy Damianova preceded her with 9.875, a career best, to give the Utes their best floor total of the season.
McAllister lost the all-around to Michigan's No. 2-ranked Kylee Botterman, who had 39.425.
Damianova said the excitement seemed to be missing, and McAllister, who was sick during the meet, said, "Tonight we didn't do as good a job" of performing as they practiced.
Neither seemed worried about it.
"There were definitely some plusses," McAllister observed. Floor was the biggest because the team met its goal of improving. And, "It's fun to win," she said.
Marsden was less positive but noted the light practice. "I didn't bring much intensity to practice," he said, though that was by design to help recharge.
"Very lackluster," he said. "They weren't bad. They just weren't great. They had been doing such a good job of competing with intensity."
He said next week will see tougher practices — not as punishment but because the Utes need to get back to form immediately.
They're at Utah State Friday and need a good road score to give them a strong Regional Qualifying Score, the total that seeds them into the postseason. RQS requires three road scores. Utah has only two so far.
Marsden assumed scheduling probably didn't help Friday's intensity. As an independent, he sometimes has no choice of when to bring in good teams, working around their conference schedules, so he wound up with four straight meets at home, and he thought that probably lessened the mood.
Damianova and McAllister said they didn't mind a month at home and didn't think that was a factor Friday because it's always exciting at home.
Another factor could have been illness for McAllister and freshman Corrie Lothrop. Marsden wasn't sure how sick Lothrop was, but she was ill earlier in the week and had a difficult time on bars Friday. She nearly missed re-catching after a release and then touched down both hands on the dismount for a fall, her first of the season.
There was also a fall by Gael Mackie on beam, and in both cases, McAllister was next up, having the tough task of getting the team back on track, which she did with a 9.725 bars and 9.8 beam. "It's definitely a stressful situation," McAllister said.
That the Utes battled back after falls and a poor start did impress Marsden. "They could have let it get away from them and didn't," he said.
And a "high point" for him was that senior Jacq Johnson, who missed two meets with a concussion, participated in all four events Friday. She has never gone all-around to count, but she did bars (9.775) and floor (9.75) to count and exhibitioned on vault (9.8) and beam (9.775). "She's going to be hard to keep out of the all-around, especially if she competes like tonight," he said.
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