Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — On paper, looking at things statistically and logically, there wasn't any way that Utah's young and injured gymnastics team could compete Friday night in the Huntsman Center with No. 1-ranked Florida, a team that leads the ratings in every event.
Not even with an NCAA and Utah-record crowd of 15,558 on hand to cheer on the Utes and their three outgoing seniors — Jacq Johnson, Gael Mackie and the injured Kyndal Robarts — on senior night.
And yet, after three events, Utah was just .15 behind, and as her team went to balance beam to conclude the meet, Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said they felt the pressure was definitely on.
Florida added another .1 to its margin, winning 197.00-196.75, as the Gators did well on beam, and Utah had some of those imprecise landings that it's been trying to clean up for much of the season.
But the night left Utah coach Greg Marsden saying again, "I just love this team. They are just gutty little fighters. It doesn't matter who's on the other side of the floor.
"We just shouldn't be able to hang with Florida when you look at our roster and their roster, but we did."
True, Florida was coming off its first loss of the season, last Friday at Arkansas, 196.70-196.10, but Faehn said that setback steeled her team, taught it to fight every night, and that the Gators were much better in the Huntsman Center.
The Utes did get one bit of good fortune Friday morning when freshman all-arounder Corrie Lothrop's ankle felt so much better that she did a few beam routines and decided she would be able to participate in that event.
She scored 9.85.
That kept Mackie from counting in the all-around in her final home meet, but she scored 9.775 in an exhibition beam routine and would have had 39.40 in the all-around, had her beam counted. That would have raised her career best by .275. She had a career-best vault of 9.90.
"I just relaxed and let it happen," she said, with Marsden noting that she is finally learning how to do that as her career nears its end.
Johnson had a 9.775 vault, 9.80 bars and 9.775 floor but fell on beam, totaling 38.575 in just the second all-around she's ever done collegiately due to several injuries.
Utah has two more road meets plus the postseason left, starting next Saturday night at Oregon State.
"It's so exciting to finally be back," said Lothrop. "After sitting out last week, it's not fun."
The largest crowd in NCAA gymnastics history — which should let Utah retain its NCAA season-attendance crown — was a big help for Lothrop. "I've never been in a place with that many people. Even when I came to watch meets (on unofficial visits), I've never seen so many people in my life," she said.
Many were even turned away at the gate, as the general admission seats were full. Most of the lower bowl is sold to season ticketholders, so empty seats there could not be given to those turned away. The total was six more people than Utah's former NCAA record set Jan. 22, 2010, when Georgia visited. And underdog Utah won that meet by .05.
Florida opened with 49.275 on bars and then vaulted to 49.40, but Utah followed a 49.175 opening on vault with 49.25 on bars and made up ground as Florida's floor team notched only 49.075, while Utah came up with 49.175 on beam despite a fall, to leave the three-event total at 147.75-147.60 for Florida. But the Gators responded with a strong beam set, while Utah had a few errors on floor.
Ute junior Stephanie McAllister was the night's all-around winner with 39.45, the second-highest score of her career. Her 9.925 on bars tied her career best. She edged Florida's Alaina Johnson (39.425) in the last event.
McAllister said it's obvious the Utes still need to clean up some landings and stop giving away tenths here and there, but she doesn't see the top teams as out of reach for this young Ute team that's missing senior leader Kyndal Robarts (knee injury) and was without Lothrop on three events and without vault specialist Victoria Shanley.
"Oh, no. I don't think so. I think we're really close," McAllister said. "With a few improvements, it can help a lot.
"With a few cleaner landings and a few more tenths, I think we're right there."
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