A Ute gymnastics team that has not counted a fall all year, but also has not absolutely hit every event in a meet yet, hopes that consistency is on its side one more time this afternoon.
The seventh-ranked Utes are seeded second in the Norman (Okla.) NCAA regional which begins at 3 p.m. MDT today in the University of Oklahoma's Lloyd Noble Center, and they need to finish in the top two if they are to qualify for the April 15-17, 2011 NCAA Championships at Cleveland.
There are six regionals, and 12 teams will advance today.
In their 36-year history, the Utes have never not qualified to move on to the national championships — the only program in the country with such a distinction. But it gets tougher every year as other programs improve, and this is the youngest Ute team in years, with six freshmen doing nearly half the team's routines.
Utah coach Greg Marsden has an eye on 17th-ranked Washington, the third seed in Norman, because the Huskies have ended the season strong, finishing third in the Pac-10 championships, ahead of a highly respected Stanford squad.
"We know they're an improving team on a mission," said Marsden. "They flew in a day early to train, so we know what they've got on their mind.
"And I assume some of the other teams are good enough that if we don't do our job, they can beat us."
Oklahoma, ranked fifth, is the top seed in its own regional and finished second in the NCAAs last year, so it is certainly the favorite, especially in its home arena.
"They're well-coached, and they execute very well," Marsden said of the Sooners.
The rest of the field includes No. 32 New Hampshire, No. 33 Missouri and No. 35 North Carolina.
Only the top two teams will continue their seasons.
"I feel like if we do what we've consistently done all year, we'll be fine. If we don't, anything can happen," Marsden said.
"I take nothing for granted. I know you just go do your best and see what that gets you. It's the typical tournament time. It's one-and-done. You've got to compete each night now."
Marsden hopes to have everyone but all-arounder Kyndal Robarts (out for the season) available to him, but all-arounder Corrie Lothrop and vaulter Victoria Shanley could be meet-time decisions. Lothrop has a floating chip in an ankle that could get into the wrong spot at any time, and Shanley has battled back spasms since the preseason.
"Corrie's being a trooper," said Marsden. "She's gritting her teeth. The ankle is a little bit better, but it's sore, and we just have to keep our fingers crossed that it remains manageable.
"The same thing with Victoria's back."
But it has looked all week as if both might be able to compete.
"I think everybody's going to be available. I just have to keep an eye on those things and have other people ready to step in, as they have at other times," Marsden said.
The other thing he and co-coach Megan Marsden are trying to manage is the team's youth, which has been no problem so far this season. But the regional is different from other meets, since there are six teams and two 40-minute byes for each team, making for a long competition.
"This team has pleasantly surprised me with each concern I've had throughout the year," Greg Marsden said. "They've been a pleasant surprise to me. They've handled everything remarkably well, considering how young we are, so I'm optimistic that they'll continue to do the same.
"But that's going to be the challenge."
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