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Utah Utes gymnastics: Facing another SEC powerhouse

Published: Monday, Jan. 19 2009 12:33 a.m. MST

Ute offensive tackle Zane Beadles spent part of Friday — the day of the downtown parade for the 13-0 U. football team — making a good-luck poster for the Utah gymnastics team and getting many of his teammates to sign it.

Beadles brought the poster and a stuffed animal to the gym prior to the gymnasts' Saturday practice.

The much-appreciated message of the poster was that — as the Sugar Bowl-champion gridders proved when they whipped former No. 1-ranked Alabama — Utah can beat the Southeastern Conference.

The Ute gymnasts, 1-0 and ranked No. 3, have a matinee meet at SEC powerhouse Georgia, 2-0 and ranked No. 4, at 2 p.m. MST today, and like the football team, they're underdogs.

The Gym Dogs and Utes are the two most decorated teams in women's collegiate gymnastics, each with nine NCAA national championships. The Utes also have an AIAW national title from the year before the NCAA began sponsoring women's athletics.

But Georgia has won the last four NCAA titles, and the Utes have been second the last three years.

Utah beat Georgia in the 2008 season opener in the Huntsman Center last January by .1 point, then took its third straight NCAA runner-up spot at Georgia last April.

Georgia leads the series 22-20-1 and has won nine of the last 10. Utah's 2-8 at Athens, Ga., and hasn't won there since the 1995 NCAA championships. It hasn't won a dual meet there since 1991, though

this is only the third time since '91 that they'll have competed there in a dual meet.

Today is the last time Ute coach Greg Marsden will have a chance to beat Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan in Stegeman Coliseum. She retires after this season.

It is also the last chance for seniors Kristina Baskett and Nina Kim and juniors Daria Bijak, Jamie Deetscreek, Annie DiLuzio and Beth Rizzo (injured) to ever win in Stegeman.

"I never thought about it like that," said Kim. "I'm excited to be down there with the team and show them that we've been working hard for ourselves."

"I love to win every meet we do," said Baskett. "It doesn't make me want to win more because I want to win as much as I can. I already want it so much that it's already at its peak.

"There is a chance because there's so many options that can happen," Baskett added.

"Georgia's a tough place to compete, I don't care who you are or when you're there," said Marsden. "We'd love to beat them any time, whether Suzanne's there or not, whether it's her first year or last year.

"It's a challenge — but one that I relish. I love to put us in a position that we're really testing ourselves," Marsden said.

In Utah's last dual meet at Georgia, "We were horrible," said Marsden, shuddering at the 196.85-195.475 mistake-filled event. But, "After that catastrophe, we came back and placed second at nationals."

Georgia beat West Virginia at home Jan. 9 and won at LSU Friday — the reason this meet is on Monday to give the Utes a rare two-meet week. They host Washington Friday. Originally this meet was set for last Friday, but the SEC schedule changed that, so the holiday special was arranged. Utah is coming off a home win Jan. 9 over UCLA.

Marsden will move Gael Mackie into the beam lineup and freshman Stephanie McAllister into bars. Mackie will also be the alternate on floor, which means if there's some problem with a teammate, she could see her first career all-around.

Baskett, who touched her hands down for a fall on her final tumbling pass in the season opener, has changed the order for her passes and will do the harder ones earlier. She hopes that will give her more energy at the end in these early meets and help save on her sore ankles.

"I feel like we're beyond prepared physically and better mentally than we were for the first meet," she said.

Marsden said Kyndal Robarts (torn labrum in right shoulder) is not ready yet. He added that an MRI revealed Rizzo tore ligaments on both sides of her ankle when she fell on floor Jan. 9. She is out four to six weeks.

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