SALT LAKE CITY — Friday night at 7 in the Huntsman Center, when historically the two top teams in collegiate women's gymnastics meet yet again — Georgia at Utah — likely the last person to perform will be Ute senior Annie DiLuzio.
She's anchored Utah's floor exercise team in the past. But this year, DiLuzio has earned that spot instead of having it so coaches could decide, based on how the team had performed up until that point and how much risk needed to be taken: her double Arabia or triple twist.
Now, "Doozie" is last up — like Kristina Baskett or Ashley Postell of years past — because she deserves it.
"Absolutely she's earned that, and I think she found some music that really fits her well, and the style is very dramatic, and it's a great way to end our lineup," said coach Greg Marsden, who plans to keep it the same as his sixth-ranked club tests the five-time defending NCAA-champion Gym Dogs, ranked 10th this week.
Between them, they've won 20 of the last 34 national championships, each with 10, though Utah's first was in the AIAW, before the NCAA sponsored women's gymnastics.
It's not been the best of starts for either squad.
Utah got back on track in its home-opener last Friday with a team score of 196.30, compensating for the graduation losses of two great leaders, Baskett and Nina Kim.
Georgia, also 1-1, graduated one of the top NCAA gymnasts ever in Courtney Kupets and lost legendary coach Suzanne Yoculan to retirement. Longtime assistant Jay Clark is in his first year as head coach.
Marsden spoke with Clark on Wednesday and found the season's start (scores of 195.15 and 195.50) has him slightly on edge.
"He expressed a little bit of frustration that they're training better than they're competing right now. I think he feels like that will work itself out in time, but it's frustrating now. He's feeling a lot of pressure to get that done sooner rather than later," Marsden said.
Cassidy McComb was Georgia's top all-arounder the first two meets at 38.675 and 39.075. Utah was led by junior Kyndal Robarts (39.15) at UCLA and senior Jamie Deetscreek (39.425) last week.
"They're still going to be a great team, so we're not going to let down just because they're not (high) in the rankings," said Deetscreek. "Last week," she said of the 196.60-195.125 loss at UCLA, "it was really a hopeless feeling. Now we just see that we still have a lot to work on, but we're where we should be. "This week, we can focus on working hard rather than trying to prove ourselves."
"We need to focus on ourselves and what we need to do to keep improving," DiLuzio said, "because what really counts is at the end of the year."
In the third meet of the season, DiLuzio should be the final performer.
"It feels good," she acknowledged. "It does take a toll on the mental aspect if people have messed up before you, but at the same time, I love being in that spot."
She owned it last week with a 9.95, even without the double Arabian. "I feel good when it was a good routine, and that helps my team," she said.
Ute co-coach Megan Marsden notes a difference in DiLuzio's floor routine over the years. She was always a powerful and skilled tumbler and vaulter, but, "What I'm proud of is what she came to us and said she wasn't good at, and that's dancing on floor," Marsden said.
"She said, 'I'm a horrible dancer. Every choreographer that's ever worked with me says I'm a horrible dancer, and I'm hard to work with.'
"And I shoved that straight out the window," Marsden said. "I said, 'I just don't believe that.' And she's done nothing but get more confident in presenting herself on floor exercise."
Now she's uncorked a dramatic ending, too. "Better than I could have asked her to. That brought the house down," Marsden said. "It's the whole package. It's the presentation, the music, the choreography and the tumbling, all put into one." DiLuzio has also become a consistent beam-worker, a major goal. "I'm not just good on vault and floor, like everyone thinks already," she said.
"I really wanted to prove to everyone, especially myself, that I can stay in the beam lineup."1 comment on this story
She scored 9.85 last week, tying her career high, having learned to use "key words, little corrections or things to think about so I'm not focusing on, 'Oh, what if I fall?' And I have my mind focused on what I need to do at that moment."
Georgia at Utah
Today, 7 p.m.