Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Utah competes against Arizona in a gymnastics meet at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014.
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah gymnastics co-head coach Megan Marsden believes the days of being seeded in the easier semifinal for the NCAA championships are long gone. So when the Utah gymnasts and coaches learned which teams stand in their way to getting back to the NCAA super six, they simply acknowledged both sessions are going to be tough. The NCAA championships open April 18 in Birmingham, Ala.
“In this day and age, because there is so much parity, it’s hard to decipher which session is the toughest,” admitted Marsden.
For a long time, the elite four of Utah, Georgia, Alabama and UCLA dominated the championships. But Florida put its name in the record book last season and has its eye on the top prize again this year.
“It won’t be bad to go against teams we think will be at the top,” said Marsden. “Our girls have watched Alabama and Florida win the championship, so it will be fun for the girls to see them this year.”
Both of the recent champions, Alabama and Florida, are in Utah’s semifinal, along with Nebraska, UCLA and Penn State. This group drew the evening session, which begins at 6 p.m. MDT. The first semifinal will feature Georgia, Stanford, LSU, Oklahoma, Michigan and Illinois and begins at noon MDT. The SEC and Big Ten lead the way with four teams, while the Pac-12 has three and the Big 12 has one.
The top three teams from each session advance to the super six team finals on Saturday, April 19. The championships conclude on April 20 with the individual event finals.
Raving about their rotation
Utah’s gymnasts and coaches are ecstatic about their rotation draw. The Red Rocks will start on bars, then follow with beam, bye, floor, vault and bye. This is the apparatus rotation Utah drew for regionals, but this time around Utah won’t have to sit through a bye the first rotation.
Utah is also familiar with the rotation because it is the traditional road team format for a dual meet. The format sets Utah up again to finish on its two best events in floor and vault. But it also means sitting through the final rotation to see where the final teams' scores rank.
Hungry for a title
The Red Rocks are the only team to appear in all 33 NCAA championships, but they haven’t won one since 1995. Last year, Utah failed to advance to the Super Six for the first time since 1999, so its priority is to survive to the next day. Utah also hasn’t had an individual title winner since 2007 when Ashley Postell won the beam. Georgia Dabritz has Utah’s best chance as she has led the nation on bars this season. Kailah Delaney and Tory Wilson have ranked first or second on vault most of the year as well.
Utah gymnast Lia Del Priore said the best part about the NCAA regional is the preparation it offers for the NCAA championships.
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“It’s a different format with the time in between events and the byes,” said Del Priore. “It’s the first meet of the season like that, so you have to play around with your nutrition and hydration. You also don’t know what you’re going to do during bye — should you stay up or come down? It is beneficial to experience sitting with high pressure."
Holding on to perfection
Best friends Del Priore and Becky Tutka have not fallen in their careers at Utah. Del Priore, a senior, has hit 61-of-61 routines while Tutka, a junior, is a perfect 67-of-67. Both gymnasts will compete in the NCAA floor lineup, and Tutka will also lead off on vault.