A couple of years ago when it was first announced what schools won the bids to host the six 2009 NCAA women's regional gymnastics championships, University of Utah coach Greg Marsden says he was "afraid to hope" that his Utes would be sent to the West Regional at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Afraid or not, Marsden got his wish Monday when the final regular-season rankings helped determine that No. 2 Utah would, indeed, go to the West Region on April 4.
There the Utes will meet 11th-ranked Auburn, No. 14 Illinois, No. 19 Boise State, No. 33 Washington and No. 34 San Jose State for the right to advance to the 2009 NCAA Championships at Nebraska April 16-18.
The top two finishers from each of the country's six regionals qualify to nationals, along with some at-large individuals.
The nation's top 18 teams in the final rankings are sent to regionals based mainly on an "S" curve that combines the No. 1-ranked team (Georgia) with Nos. 12 and 13, the No. 2 team (Utah) with Nos. 11 and 14, No. 3 (Alabama) with Nos. 10 and 15, and so on. If ranked teams are region hosts, they go to their own regional, along with the teams in their "S" curve bracket, such as Alabama this year.
Other teams in the regional fields are usually the next-highest-ranked teams from their home regions.
The NCAA can change the assignments due to travel distances or other circumstances, but in Utah's case this year, everything aligned so that the Utes could go to Washington rather than other possibilities like Arkansas or Iowa.
One change the NCAA did make is to send Southern Utah, ranked 27th, away from its home region, the North Central at Iowa, to the South Central Region at Arkansas, where it will meet No. 4 Stanford, No. 7 UCLA, No. 18 Minnesota, No. 25 Arizona and No. 31 Arizona State.
Utah State (ranked 47th) and BYU (50th) did not qualify as teams for the postseason.
Top-ranked Georgia will be with Penn State and nationals-host Nebraska at the Southeast Region at North Carolina State, along with West Virginia, North Carolina and the host team. Alabama is at home with Oklahoma, Missouri, Central Michigan, New Hampshire and Maryland in the Northeast Regional.
Number 5 Florida is at the North Central at Iowa with UCLA, Minnesota, Denver, Iowa State and the Hawkeyes.
Marsden had made tentative travel plans to all the possible sites, and he said going to Seattle saves about $20,000 in air fare and other travel hassles. To go to Arkansas, for instance, the team would have had to be split up to get everyone on flights.
Seattle is also the home of Ute senior Kristina Baskett, and it is near sophomore Gael Mackie's home near Vancouver, B.C.
"I'm so excited," said Baskett. "I was excited when I first found out that they (the Huskies) were hosting and that we'd have a chance to go there.
"I kind of had a feeling that we were going to go there, but I'm glad it's, like, set in stone."
Fellow senior Nina Kim, from Texas, was happy, too. "We wanted to go there in the first place. It's Kris' hometown, and it's her last year, so it will be special," she said.
Perhaps an added bonus is that the two other seeded teams in the West Regional are less experienced than most of the other postseason qualifiers. Illinois has never qualified for an NCAA Championships, and despite hosting nationals in 2005, Auburn hasn't qualified to compete in the NCAAs since 1993.
Baskett said there shouldn't be any letdown in the Utes' purpose. "We want to get the highest seed possible going into nationals," and that means winning and scoring well at the regional.
Utah will open the regional with the bye before floor.
"If we go do our job, I think we'll be fine," said Marsden. "If we don't, no matter what region we went to, there are going to be a couple teams that could move ahead of us if they're on and they do a good job."
He said Auburn has been consistent all season, and Illinois has done well the last two years in the Big Ten meets, and Washington holds a win over No. 8 Oregon State.
"We can't take anything for granted," he added. "We've got to go in and do our job. If we do that, then I'm confident we'll be fine."
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