SALT LAKE CITY — There were nothing but smiles this week at the Utah gymnastic team’s practices. The sixth-ranked Red Rocks open the season Saturday, hosting No. 23 Boise State, BYU and Southern Utah in a quad meet at the Huntsman Center.
The smiles are indicative of a team ready to be back on the floor. Co-head coach Greg Marsden admits this group is probably carrying a chip on its shoulder after not making the Super Six at the NCAA finals last season — something Utah had accomplished 13 years in a row.
“Our team seemed to be on a mission during the summer and preseason, and has talked a lot about not making finals,” said Marsden.
“Last season was a bit of a roller-coaster ride. We had a very good group of kids who worked hard and were talented, but losing Corrie (Lothrop) and Kailah (Delaney) for the season ultimately really hurt us.”
Lothrop, who was the 2012 Pac-12 all-around champion, missed most of last season after tearing her Achilles while warming up for a meet. Delaney didn’t compete last year due to a knee injury. Both gymnasts are All-Americans and can hit big scores.
Lothrop will be limited to bars and beam early in the season, while Delaney is set to compete on vault and beam. Back in 2012, Delaney qualified for the NCAA finals in vault with teammate Georgia Dabritz.
“Corrie has come back strong, but it’s been less than a year and we don’t want to push her because vaulting and tumbling seem to contribute to some tendonitis,” said Marsden.
Utah doesn’t have an all-arounder scheduled to compete this Saturday, primarily because of its strong depth with Lothrop and Delaney back, as well as the addition of freshman Baely Rowe, who was the Junior Olympic all-around champion last year.
“We have a lot of gymnasts who worked hard over the summer and have made huge improvements in events they weren’t necessarily factors in last year,” noted Marsden. “This season they are in the mix for spots in these event lineups.”
But despite the depth, Marsden admits there is one event that will prove key this year — beam. Beam prevented the Utes from making the Super Six last year. At the NCAA finals, Utah trailed the first-place team in its semifinal by less than a tenth of a point going into its final event, beam, but dropped out of the running when it had to count two falls and a low score.
“Last season we exposed a weakness we had, which was balance beam,” said Marsden. “It kind of cost us, especially at the end of the year, but I do think we have more confidence on the event this year and having Corrie and Kailah back will help.”
Lothrop will lead off beam, while Utah native Mary Beth Lofgren will anchor. Lofgren has proved to be a strong beam specialist, earning first-team All-America honors.
“I really think we have more confidence this season on beam, and really all around because we are more experienced,” said Lofgren, a senior.
Last season Utah had eight underclassmen and no seniors. This season Utah has five seniors and only three underclassmen, so the tables have turned experience-wise.
“We’ve had a great offseason and our intra-squad meet last Friday was everything we could have asked for at this point,” said Lothrop.
This Saturday’s meet begins at 7 p.m., and is Daddy-Daughter night. The Red Rocks have not lost to any of their three opponents in Salt Lake City. Utah coach Greg Marsden enters this season with 994 wins and is on track to become the sport’s first 1,000-win coach.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company