'Overachieving' Utah Utes gymnasts ready for NCAA Championships
CLEVELAND —The University of Utah women's gymnastics team has only experienced one setback since arriving in Cleveland for the NCAA Championships.
Fortunately for the Utes, it didn't involve an injury or a case of the nerves.
"We had to make a grocery store run to stock up for the weekend, but we found there weren't any close to downtown," Utah co-coach Megan Marsden said, chuckling. "You like to keep the girls kind of busy, but that trip took a lot longer than we had planned."
With their shopping excursion complete, the Utes' focus has turned to the job at hand — and the reason why they are in Northeast Ohio.
Today at 4 p.m. MDT, the Red Rocks will compete in the second national semifinal session at Cleveland State University, vying for one of three berths in the Super Six on Saturday.
Seventh-ranked Utah's competition includes the No. 1 (Florida), No. 2 (Alabama) and No. 3 (Oregon State) squads in the nation, along with No. 10 Nebraska and No. 24 Kent State.
The Utes, though, say they're not focusing on anyone but themselves in their 36th consecutive trip to the championship meet.
"Nationals are a big deal and the more you dwell on other teams, the more you're worrying about things you can't control," said junior Stephanie McAllister, a 2010 second-team All-American on the uneven parallel bars. "This has been a really good year in many different ways, so we're all excited to be back.
"We have worked so hard to get to this point, our goal is just to do our best and have fun."
Utah accomplished the latter goal Thursday at its late-afternoon practice, where its athletes were remarkably crisp and relaxed.
Freshman Lia Del Priore best summed up the Utes' mood by dancing atop the vault table, much to the delight of her teammates.
"For our team with how young we are, to be here is the icing on the cake," said Marsden, whose 12-woman squad features six freshmen.
"Greg (Marsden, co-coach) and I feel this team has already overachieved on some level, so it's really important to us that they feel a sense of accomplishment, regardless of what happens this weekend."
Utah's tentative lineup remains unchanged on the eve of the event with McAllister, freshman Corrie Lothrop and senior Jacq Johnson in the all-around. Lothrop made it through practice without re-injuring her ailing ankle, earning her a "Co-Lo" chant from the Utes fans on hand.
Freshman Nansy Damianova is scheduled for the vault, bars and floor exercise, while Del Priore (vault, floor), junior Cortni Beers (bars, beam), senior Gael Mackie (bars, beam), and freshman Mary Beth Lofgren (beam, floor) are listed for two events. Freshman Victoria Shanley is slated to vault.
The Utes will begin on the bars, then head to the beam, floor and vault, in that order.
"With the two-hour time difference here, some of the girls still need one more good night's sleep to catch up," Marsden said. "That is a definite advantage to being in the late session because they'll be able to sleep in if they want to before getting ready."
Another potential advantage for Utah is its knack for performing well in front of large crowds. The 13,610-seat Wolstein Center is expected to be near capacity for the evening semifinal because of nearby Kent State's unexpected qualification.
Since the Utes averaged an NCAA women's all-sports high 13,503 for their six meets at the Huntsman Center, they are one of the few schools who won't be affected by the atmosphere.
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