In the season's first half, Utah's gymnastics team has proven itself pretty unflappable — capable of weathering difficulties and simply moving on and able to win and score well on the road.
Now — starting with Friday night's meet against No. 15 Michigan (12-2) in the Huntsman Center at 7 – the No. 1-ranked Utes (8-1) will spend the rest of the regular season in Utah with three straight home meets and the finale at BYU.
That means an extra day to train each week, since they won't have to spend Thursdays traveling somewhere, "And we actually have a week off next week, which is going to give us four trainings, which is unheard of at this time of the year," said coach Greg Marsden.
He's aware the coaching staff looks more forward to having so many practices than do the gymnasts, but it should afford what has been a very good club a chance to sharpen things up for the postseason.
"We have to be careful and not overdo it this week, but we've got to transition back into training. We weren't quite as sharp at Nebraska," he said. That was the Utes' third meet in eight days with just one light practice in between. "We've had a great first half of the season, and I couldn't be more pleased with the way we've gone about things.
"Now the big question will be whether we can step it up a notch in the second half of the season and get rid of the little execution issues, whether we can do leaps better with more amplitude on floor, whether we can hit handstands and stick dismounts and that kind of thing."
And that's what this home-heavy schedule gives the Utes time to address.
So far, they have done a marvelous job of making up for the mistakes they've made, not allowing them to snowball. Marsden calls that, "One thing that's been impressive about this team." Most teams will tense up if someone has a fall early in the lineup.
"When you get cautious, it changes the way you do things," Marsden said, "and often it leads to more problems than if you were just aggressive.
"This team has been good about not getting cautious if somebody makes a mistake, it doesn't seem to affect them in a negative way. They just seem to go ahead and do it as if nothing's happened."
RANKINGS: Utah's floor team moved up to No. 1, sharing that distinction with the vault team, as the rankings this week switched from raw season average to Regional Qualifying Score, an average of the six best totals, three of which must be from road meets, with the high score thrown out. The team retained its overall No. 1 ranking for the third straight week.
Kristine Baskett moved up from 11th to third in the all-around, averaging 39.41, and retained her No. 1 rating in vault; she's No. 2 on bars. After her career-high 9.925 on beam at Nebraska, Nina Kim moved up to No. 4 nationally on that event. Jamie Deetscreek (39.28) is 10th all-around.
Daria Bijak slipped from third to fourth on bars. "Hmm, that's not too bad, huh?" Bijak said Monday.
"But it's not what I focus on. It's not my goal to be third or fourth or whatever. Just to do good routines and be happy with myself and help my team."
Bijak was happy she'd completed her second all-around of the season at Nebraska. "I wanted to get my vault back and feel comfortable with that, and I think I'm doing good," she said.
STEP OUT?: Many fans who viewed the videos Marsden puts online of the Nebraska meet wondered why Bijak drew a .1 deduction in her floor routine as they couldn't see her step out of bounds. But assistant coach Jeff Graba, who spots for Bijak at the end of her huge tuck double front/tuck front first pass, said she got her big toe and second toe out of bounds and the deduction was proper.
Most meets have line judges who raise a flag when someone goes out of bounds, and there weren't any at this meet, but Marsden said the scoring judge in that area immediately raised her hand to signify the violation.
NCAA women's gymnastics rankings
Feb. 16, by Regional Qualifying Score
Team ... RQS ... Avg ... High
1. Utah ... 196.780 ... 196.732 ... 197.050
2. Georgia ... 196.630 ... 196.546 ... 197.250
3. UCLA ... 196.330 ... 196.462 ... 197.125
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4. Stanford ... 196.285 ... 196.421 ... 197.100
5. Auburn ... 196.200 ... 196.175 ... 196.575
6. Florida ... 196.035 ... 196.171 ... 196.850
7. Arkansas ... 196.020 ... 196.011 ... 196.900
8. Alabama ... 196.010 ... 196.179 ... 197.025
9. Oregon State ... 195.970 ... 195.864 ... 196.650
10. LSU ... 195.870 ... 195.761 ... 196.800
27. S. Utah ... 193.605 ... 193.879 ... 195.250
37. Utah State ... 191.120 ... 191.533 ... 193.600
(Not all teams — including BYU — have enough meets for an RQS yet)