Rivalry takes a backseat to Red Rocks, proving they handle the pressure of the road

Published: Friday, March 1 2013 11:20 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The gymnastics version of the BYU-Utah rivalry may not pack the same emotional punch that it does in football or basketball, but that doesn't mean the match-up is devoid of those rivalry sentiments.

"It's definitely still part of the rivalry," said junior Lia Del Priore. "We want to go out there and kick BYU's butt."

Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden said the rivalry has always translated to gymnastics because the rivalry is bigger than any one sport.

"It's about the University of Utah and BYU, and that's always been a huge rivalry," she said. The Utes have dominated the series, but for the gymnasts it is about doing their part.

"They care about the other sports so they like to represent and be one of the sports that has an opportunity to win against BYU," she said.

With all of that acknowledged, both coaches and gymnasts said their approach to Friday's meet at BYU has focused very little on who they're competing against.

"We're keeping more of a big-picture approach, and that is we still have not really put together very many good road meets, and this is a road meet," Marsden said. "I know we don't fly on an airplane, but it is on someone else's court."

And for some reason, competing away from home has created some doubts and uneasiness in the gymnasts that doesn't exist when they are at the Huntsman Center.

"They're letting the nerves get to them when they don't have their crowd behind them," Marsden said. "And those are things we need to address, and I don't know if it would matter if it's BYU or another road meet. We'll be approaching this in terms of handling some adversity, and it's not just our place, and our special little everything."

Del Priore said the gymnasts are focused more on how they can keep calm and confident in an unfamiliar place.

"We're trying to approach it as just another away meet," said Del Priore. "We want to focus on doing our best and not worry about the outcome."

Del Priore said gymnastics is a subjective sport and focusing on the scores can make a mentally challenging situation even more difficult.

"It's important to just go out and do the best we can do," she said.

It hasn't hurt that after four season without a single 10 on any event, the Utes have received two — Tori Wilson's on vault three weeks ago and Del Priore's on floor last week. "I think it's a great confidence builder," said Marsden of Del Priore's 10. "I don't see how that could have been anything but a positive for Lia. … For any of our gymnasts, that's a huge thing that can really be used. Now how much will she use it to her advantage in terms of confidence, that's yet to be seen."

Del Priore said it's made her feel much more confident, even in training.

"I'm just excited to do another floor routine now because I know I've got that in me," she said with a grin.

Marsden said the fact that two gymnasts have received perfect scores also excites and relaxes their teammates because what most of them have never achieved is now a real possibility.

"It just makes the girls a little bit more excited," Marsden said. "Not because they have to do anything in particular. She did a great performance and on that night, those judges were willing to give it a 10. … I think for our fans and our athletes, it helps loosen them up in that, 'Wow, maybe the judges are going to let that happen from time to time. If I do my thing, it might be my night.’ ”

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Email: adonaldson@desnews.com

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