Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Looking back on its regular season, the No. 7 Utah gymnastics team has to be pleased. After all, many questioned how competitive the senior-less Red Rocks could really be after losing reigning Pac-12 all-around champion and team leader Corrie Lothrop on Feb. 1. And though Utah has had its fair share of struggles, including a road-tie to Washington, it has strung together a season that has positioned the Red Rocks as the No. 1 seed for Saturday's Pac-12 Championships in Corvallis, Ore.
"A lot of our girls are not gymnasts with gigantic accolades," said Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden. "They were good level tens, and now they are stepping up for someone who was an alternate to the Olympics. They are stepping up big time."
That humility and team spirit is what has Utah still in the gymnastics' hunt. It's getting help from across the board, with gymnasts setting several new season and career bests. But even with bests, the Red Rocks admit they're having more fun cheering on teammates than relishing in their individual accomplishments. Take Becky Tutka for example, who said she was more interested in getting her teammate Georgia Dabritz ready to go on floor in last Saturday's win over Florida than she was about celebrating a career-best 9.975. Dabritz followed suit with the same career-best.
"We couldn't be in a better place going into postseason," said Tutka. "The personal bests are fun, but what's really giving us confidence is knowing we can build off of each others' scores and energy."
High scores are something Utah will need Saturday if it has any chance of beating home team Oregon State, as well as Stanford and powerhouse UCLA.
These four top-seeded teams square off in the evening session just like last year, and just like last year expect a battle. Last time around, Stanford jumped out to a lead and looked to be on its way to the title before falling apart on bars in its final rotation. Meanwhile Utah bounced back after struggling on beam, but fell just short of wooing the home Huntsman Center fans as UCLA snatched the title. Utah has already faced these other three teams this season.
"It does help to see the other teams and know how strong they are because it helps us realize what we're up against," said freshman Breanna Hughes who has hit all 20 of her routines this season.
"We just have to go in and perform like we practice," said Kassandra Lopez, a sophomore who posted career-bests of 9.9 and 9.925 on bars and beam last weekend.
To help with practice this week, Marsden said she's going to play a few mind games with her gymnasts in order to help them imagine taking the momentum of 15,000 rowdy Huntsman Center fans on the road.
Those rowdy fans helped Utah post a 198.125 to top the Gators last Saturday, a score that ranks only behind No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Oklahoma for team season bests. That's the type of performance Marsden is hoping to repeat.
It's not the only repeat she is looking for, as she turns her sights toward last season's Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Dabritz defending her conference bars' title. Tory Wilson on vault and Tutka on floor also have shots at titles. Wilson, who is undefeated this season on vault, is expected to battle with UCLA's Vanessa Zamarripa as the two are tied for second in the nation.
After earning the school's first individual Pac-12 titles last season, Utah has positioned itself nicely to try and grab the first team title. The Red Rocks start on their two best events floor and vault, which Marsden says is great to help settle the nerves before they finish on their question marks bars and beam — both events saw season bests last weekend. Another repeat Marsden is hoping for.
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