SALT LAKE CITY — When the University of Utah competes in the somewhat revamped 2011 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships starting April 15 in Cleveland, it will do so by starting on its best event in the evening session.
And it will end the team preliminaries night on a bye.
"I think that's good for us," said Ute coach Greg Marsden, who is the only coach in the country to have qualified a team to every national championship round for which it's been eligible.
"We'll start on bars, and that's a good event for us. It's just like starting at an away meet, so we're familiar with that, and then we go to beam, so we get calmed down a little bit, and then we only have one bye to deal with and finish up on floor and vault, which have been pretty good events for us.
"And then we'll sit there and see if it's enough."
Twelve teams, six in the afternoon session and six at night, will vie for three chances per session to advance to the Super Six team championships on April 16.
This year, the championships begin on a Friday, with the Super Six on Saturday and individual event finals on Sunday afternoon. In the past, team preliminaries were on Thursdays, Super Six on Fridays and event finals on Saturday nights.
Tiny Kent State is host to the event, and it managed to qualify from the Ann Arbor Regional on Saturday, beating out, among other teams, Stanford, which has been a major player at the championships for several years. The Cardinal placed fourth at the 2010 NCAAs.
The eighth-seeded Utes will compete in the evening preliminary session with No. 12 Kent State — the host team always competes at night — as well as No. 1 Alabama, No. 4 Oregon State, No. 5 Florida and No. 9 Nebraska.
The afternoon preliminary consists of No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Georgia, No. 10 Arkansas and No. 11 Illinois.
Each year, it seems, coaches look at the draw for the sessions and think one is usually easier than the other, and they wish they were in the other one.
This year, you look at Utah's draw, and Alabama, Oregon State, Florida, Utah and Nebraska are all teams that have very strong chances.
"And then you read the next one and, 'No, don't want to be there, either,'" said Ute co-coach Megan Marsden, thinking of a UCLA-Oklahoma-Michigan-Georgia-Arkansas matchup.
"I think that's a sign that there's more teams with a possibility of winning," she said. "I really feel like (it's) at least five deep. In both rotations are people that can legitimately make the top three and move on and be a contender in Super Six.
"When you've got nine, 10, 11 teams that can contend, that means that there's a little more parity."
Utah placed sixth at the 2010 championships, and with a team consisting of half freshmen who do nearly half the routines, Greg Marsden, whose clubs hold 10 national championships and are the only team in the country to have qualified to nationals for 36 straight years, is hoping to make the Super Six and then see what happens.
"We're not a favorite this year. There are other teams that are more talented that you'd consider favorites," he said, expecting that the Utes will do a good job despite their youth.
2011 NCAA WOMEN'S GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS
By National Qualifying Score*
Team. . .Regional. . .Regional score. . .NQS
1. Alabama Tuscaloosa 197.275 394.395
2. UCLA Athens 197.425 394.110
3. Oklahoma Norman 197.350 394.045
4. Oregon State Corvallis 197.025 393.795
5. Florida Denver 196.425 393.615
6. Michigan Ann Arbor 197.075 393.575
7. Georgia Athens 196.750 393.285
8. Utah Norman 196.475 393.045
9. Nebraska Corvallis 196.550 392.825
10. Arkansas Denver 196.550 392.610
11. Illinois Tuscaloosa 195.925 391.850
12. Kent State Ann Arbor 195.450 390.695