Jeffrey_Allred, Deseret News
Utah's Mary Beth Lofgren performs on the bars during the meet with Georgia in Salt Lake City Saturday, March 15, 2014.
SALT LAKE CITY — For years, the Utah gymnastics team has enjoyed being a regular at the NCAA championships. The Red Rocks have also relished being perennial participants in the super six portion of the finals.
So when things didn’t go well in 2013 and Utah failed to advance to the super six for the first time since 1999, the group got together and discussed what it needed to change to avoid the same result in 2014.
The Red Rocks challenged each other to simply get back to work and do so with a new attitude that involved a fiercer confidence on an individual and team level.
“We are hungry this year and want it after last year’s ninth-place finish,” said Salt Lake native Mary Beth Lofgren. “We were embarrassed and upset with ourselves last year.”
Lofgren, whose nickname is MB, has done about as much as anyone to get Utah back. She has been outspoken about the embarrassment that came last season for a program she’s rooted for since she was in diapers.
“What’s fun about Mary Beth is that you get more than you see when you first meet her,” said Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden. “By this, I mean she has this whole other side of her. When you meet her, you meet this super nice and sweet person. But when you get to know her, she’s as tough as nails.”
That driven spirit has helped Lofgren battle. The senior has been a stalwart in Utah’s beam lineup since her freshman year. But the other lineups have been more sporadic. Lofgren fought her way into the floor and vault lineups this season and hit 9.85s in both events at the NCAA regionals.
“Mary Beth scored big for us on vault at regionals when the big scores weren’t being thrown by the judges. When she came to Utah, she was a horrible vaulter. I love that she’s pushed herself," said Marsden.
Marsden admitted there is something special about how Lofgren fights through things.
“There is just this tough competitor in there, and this toughness when she trains and competes,” said Marsden.
Lofgren had struggles on the beam this year, hitting only three of her first six routines. After changing a release move and staving off the mental struggles, she’s recorded 9.9s in her last three meets and has hit her last 6 routines.
“MB has been an awesome mentor,” said sophomore Breanna Hughes. “We both had struggles on beam this season, but she doesn’t let you get down.”
The NCAA championships open Friday in Birmingham, Ala., with the team semifinals. The Red Rocks’ session features four of the five teams that have won an NCAA championship in Utah, UCLA, Alabama and last year’s champion Florida. Penn State and Nebraska round out the tough second session that begins at 6 p.m. MDT. The top three teams from the session will advance to Saturday’s super six final.
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“This could really be anyone’s meet,” said Lofgren. “We really think we have a chance if we keep competing like we have been.”
Utah is peaking at the right time, having won the Pac-12 championship and its NCAA regional. But the Red Rocks' ultimate goal is rectifying last season's finish to set them up for a chance at the NCAA championship.
“We’re in the gym day in and day out together,” said Lofgren. “This season feels different, though, because we have worked hard to reach our goals. We also have had a lot of fun along the way and when we have fun, we are at our best."