Utah Utes gymnastics: No. 2 Utes draw night session

By Linda Hamilton

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, April 7 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

With the host team out of the competition, some of the advantage of competing in the evening session on the first day of the 2009 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships is diminished because there may not be as big a crowd or as much excitement. Host teams always compete in the evening sessions...

But University of Utah coach Greg Marsden doesn't worry about that any more than he and his second-ranked, second-seeded West Regional championship team have worried about much of anything in this most consistently strong Ute season in many years.

By order of a draw held Monday morning, Utah will open the April 16 team-preliminaries round at Nebraska in the evening session with a rotation that begins with the bye-before-bars.

Other teams in Utah's session will be No. 3 seed Alabama, No. 4 UCLA, No. 6 Oregon State, No. 10 Arkansas and No. 11 Illinois, a newcomer to the NCAAs after finishing second to Utah in Saturday's West Regional.

The afternoon session is No. 1 Georgia, No. 4. LSU, No. 5 Florida, No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 9 Stanford and No. 12 Penn State.

For the teams expected to finish in the top three of their sessions and advance to the April 17 Friday-night Super Six national championships, the afternoon preliminary session is often preferred because it gives a little more time to rest before the Super Six.

"Yeah, but it's fine," said Marsden, whose team has won 10 national titles, nine since the NCAA took over women's gymnastics in 1982.Georgia has nine national titles, all in the NCAA, including the last four.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to both sessions," said Marsden...

"I'm hoping that, even though the host team's not there (Nebraska finished third Saturday in its regional and did not qualify), that there will be a few more people there in the evening session.

"I think it helps us if there's a little more energy in the arena, and that's when we're typically used to competing (at night). Those are the positives," Marsden said.

"The only negative is you just don't get as much recovery time if you're fortunate enough to go on to finals, but we'll live with it."

His club has been second each of the last three years.

Marsden and the Utes are happy with the rotation that they drew, starting with a bye and then opening competition on bars. "I like our rotation because — in a sense, not exactly — we've practiced that rotation every time we've been on the road.," he said. Visiting teams in dual meets open on bars while home teams start on vault.

"We like having a bye before the first event," Marsden said. "We did that at regionals. It worked well for us in terms of, after the introduction, going in (to the locker room) and trying to finish up some preparation and not feeling too rushed."

The evening session might be of some advantage to Ute senior all-around championship contenders Kristina Baskett, ranked No. 2 to Georgia's Courtney Kupets, who is in the afternoon session, and Nina Kim, ranked No. 6.

The all-around is the only NCAA title decided on team-preliminaries day because that's the only time all all-arounders in the meet compete, since six teams drop out after the first day of competition.

In the past, it was thought that athletes in the evening session may get a little break because it's natural for judges to hold scores a little tighter until they've seen most of the field. The all-around is the only competition in which scores from the afternoon and evening sessions are compared.

But, at least recently, it seems judges have concentrated on scoring sessions the same way, and some all-around winners have come out of afternoon sessions, including Kupets.

Marsden says the top contenders will get their scores, regardless. "For those people, I think the quality of their gymnastics and their score is going to hold up no matter what session they're in. If there's a little bit of fatigue on the part of judges, it might help some of those other people," he said.

Rotating with Utah in the preliminaries will be Michigan at-large all-arounder Sarah Curtis.

Southern Utah's Elise Wheeler, an at-large all-arounder, will also compete in the evening session, rotating with Arkansas.

Former Ute Sarah Shire, another at-large all-arounder, will compete in the afternoon session and rotate with Georgia. Shire spent her freshman season last year at Utah but transferred by mutual agreement back to her hometown school, Missouri. She is from Columbia, Mo.

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