SALT LAKE CITY — The Ute gymnasts went to Provo last week hoping they could prove their mettle as a road team.
And they did that — earning their highest road score since 2009 (197.125) and a victory over rival BYU.
So how much of the confidence earned in that performance will help them when they travel across the country to face another, much more formidable, rival in eighth-ranked Georgia on Saturday at 6 p.m.?
“We didn’t travel on an airplane and go time zones away,” said Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden of last weekend’s victory in Provo. “We are going to have to add that to this road meet in terms of some adversity we’ll deal with. No, they aren’t exactly alike, but I do think that translates into some confidence.”
And the seventh-ranked Red Rocks will need to take their newfound confidence with them when they travel to Georgia to compete against a school that, like the Utes, owns 10 national titles and a slight edge in the series between these two decorated programs (24-22-1).
Despite the fact that most of Utah’s young gymnasts have never had to compete in the Bulldogs' Stegeman Coliseum, the Utes believe their success in Provo will help them in an even more high-pressure situation Saturday.
“I do think doing well at BYU gave us confidence that will transfer over to Georgia,” said Becky Tutka, who anchors floor and leads off on beam. “But I mean, it’s going to be a very different atmosphere. ... It always helps us out when we have a lot of fans.”
The coliseum will indeed be packed with fans — just not Utah fans.
And while Utah’s coaches have done their best to prepare the team for what it might experience, they acknowledge there is really nothing like actual experience.
“We’ve tried to just let them know what it’s like,” said Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden. “So that when we get there, it doesn’t hit them blindside. They’re right by the floor mat, and they yell; they bark; sometimes they hold newspapers up and ignore you. We’ve gone through all of the things we’ve experienced there over time to try to prepare the younger girls. The juniors are the only ones who’ve been there.”
Marsden said preparing each gymnast is a unique challenge, as they all handle the chaos of a road meet differently.
“I don’t know that you have a perfect answer for each kid,” she said. “We have some kids that that gets them fired up. We have some girls, that adds to their nerves so they’re going to have to use some of the different mental (techniques) we’ve talked about. Like putting a bubble around you and the piece of equipment and making those things seem further away and not quite so loud in your head. It’s a matter of using some of those.”
While Utah boasts the top vaulter in the country, Tory Wilson, as well as several other ranked specialists, the beam continues to cause the Utes trouble. Last weekend at BYU, Utah had two significant mistakes in the event during an otherwise rock solid performance.
Junior Mary Beth Lofgren tied with Wilson for top score on beam (9.875) last weekend and has become the team’s anchor on the difficult event.
“It’s frustrating,” said Lofgren of the Utes’ struggles on beam. “But I think we’re getting better and better as the season goes on. We’re almost there. It’s frustrating that we haven’t gotten there, but it’s frustrating that we’re so close. I think with a little extra push, we’ll get there.”
She called BYU a “step in the right direction.
“And a step in the right direction is always good,” she said.
Marsden added that while many of Utah’s gymnasts may not have competed in Georgia, they have endured some high-pressure situations: UCLA and Arizona. “I know after our UCLA meet there was some talk from the girls about (the hostile crowd),” she said. “There was a student section, and it was right there at bars, and they were very vocal and not very nice. The fact that they brought that up tells us coaches that it had some affect on them.”
Utah had three falls on bars that night and ended up losing the meet. But in the Arizona meet, Utah earned its highest beam score of the year — 49.275.
“Beam and bars are our weaker events for this team,” Marsden said. "We tend to have a leg team, meaning power events seem to be our strength. ... If we hit on all cylinders, we can be a 49.3 team. And have we done that? No. But we had one meet that we’ve been very close, and it was a road meet.”
She said every team has weaknesses and this year’s group has been working hard to be stronger on bars and beam.
“That’s not unusual,” she said of having one area that’s weaker for a group. “It’s something we coaches deal with all of the time. We’re just glad there are still time and practices to continue to address it.”