It's rare that Utah's gymnastics team needs a slap in the face, but a motivated UCLA squad provided one last Saturday in Los Angeles, and the Utes just spent what coach Greg Marsden calls an "intense" week of practice.
"They were challenged," he said Thursday as 11th-ranked Utah began its last workout before its 2010 home-opener with No. 21 Iowa State in the Huntsman Center on Friday at 7.
"I don't know what anybody would expect. You're not where you want to be — you don't resolve that by working less, at least I don't know anybody that thinks that way," Marsden said.
Utah went to UCLA with the nation's No. 2 preseason ranking — the Bruins were fifth — and lost their 2010 opener 196.60-195.125. It was the Utes' lowest score since 2006, and it dropped them out of the top 10 for probably the first time in their history. The Bruins, still angry at losing to Utah in the tiebreaker for making the Super Six finals at the 2009 NCAA championships, are now ranked No. 1.
So this week in the Ute gym, "It's been hard, and miserable on some level," said co-coach Megan Marsden. "We've had to step it up a little bit in terms of work and expectations, and the mood hasn't been light."
From what she can see, "They've responded."
"We're all definitely down after the meet," said junior Kyndal Robarts, who had the Utes' top score (39.15) in her first career all-around.
"It just makes me want to work that much harder and come back with this-is-what-we-really-are-about. We don't want last week to be indicative of our whole year. We want to move on past that and show what we really are like and what we're capable of."
"I think we have a lot of work to do," said senior Jamie Deetscreek, "and a lot of the mistakes we made were sort of uncharacteristic of what we've been doing in practices, so I think we just need to work through that and try it again (Friday)."
Megan Marsden said an outside opinion can have a big impact on a team.
"It is amazing how a meet — and the information from judges, a performance in front of people — seems to motivate our girls to fix some things, even though the coaches might have been saying it all along," she said.
"We're together so much ... sometimes the things that we say just tend to be mumbo-jumbo, and it takes something more important to them to send the message home.
"And I do think it was sent home. I think we will see some improvement that will happen in a miraculous and fast way because I've watched it before."
Neither Marsden expects the Utes to be completely where they should be Friday night.
"No, we're not going to get everything resolved in a week or two weeks or three weeks. There has to be a difference in intensity over a period of time," said Greg Marsden.
And Megan Marsden pointed out that a tough week in the gym, or several tough weeks in the gym, could wear people down for the meets.
"I feel like we're in a position where we maybe need to work through a few meets to get where we want to be by midseason, or the end of the season," she said. "And if we have to compromise that, we're going to, because if we step back and try to taper into every meet, we've got too much to fix."
Both coaches are convinced that Utah can be a team to reckon with, as usual.
"I told them this: If I believed that the way we performed last (Saturday) was all we're capable of, then I've got no beef," Greg Marsden said. "But I know and they know that we're capable of so much more."
Added Megan Marsden, "Oh, yes, we have the talent to do that. We're continuing to try to figure out how to get there."
Part of that is establishing an identity with Kristina Baskett and Nina Kim having completed their eligibility. Baskett, especially, drew the spotlight when she performed.
"I do think that we have people that have been waiting for this moment," said Megan Marsden, "but maybe they weren't quite prepared."
"As they sit in the light a little longer, maybe they'll begin to respond to that position that they've kind of waited for. It's a double-edged sword — there's a lot of pressure in that position."
Utah has some injuries to add to the fatigue they may have after a hard week of practice. Robarts pulled an adductor muscle in warmups at UCLA and has been unable to train some skills, though she has practiced all events this week. Sophomore Cortni Beers jammed an ankle and has limited training, and freshman Megan Whitney will be out again with an Achilles strain.
Iowa State is 1-0, having beaten Wisconsin-Stout 193.30-173.675 behind a 38.80 from Michelle Browning. ISU senior Megan Barnes of Salt Lake City (Waterford School/Olympus School of Gymnastics) has a knee injury that will keep her out until midseason. She was the 2009 Big 12 vault co-champion.
Gymnasts on mat
(21) Iowa State at (11) Utah
Tonight, 7 p.m.