When Greg Marsden found out that No. 3-ranked University of Georgia, his personal pick as top-ranked Utah's competition for the national championship in April, had scored 192.35 in a meet Sunday against sixth-ranked UCLA, he decided to keep the information to himself.
"I didn't tell the kids," he said. "I really didn't know if we could score that tonight."The Utes' season-opening performance Monday night - "absolutely superb," in the words of Oregon State Coach Jim Turpin - took the edge off Marsden's apprehension.
"This makes me feel like we can stay with (Georgia) now," Marsden said following Monday's 193.35-189.75 win over fourth-ranked Oregon State in the Huntsman Center before 7,261 fans and a television audience.
"It amazes me," said Turpin. "Anybody that can hit as well as they did at any point in the year is doing great, let alone first time out. Their lines are absolutely beautiful, just a pleasure to watch. They'll be the team to beat as far as I can see."
It was the sixth-best score in Utah history, the top five having come last year on the Utes' march to their seventh national title but first since 1986.
Sophomore Kristen Kenoyer posted the sixth-best all-around score in Ute history, 39.0. She scored 9.75 on every event to nip junior Missy Marlowe by .05. Marlowe had 38.95, including 9.8 on bars.
"Pretty boring," said Kenoyer, laughing, about the consistency that helped her reach a score that until last year had been out of Utah's range.
"The routines I did are the ones I did at the end of last year; they're not that hard," said Kenoyer, who was third in the '90 NCAA all-around with those routines adding up to 39.2. "I want to upgrade them. I have new tricks I want to put in in every event."
That's the attitude Marsden says the Utes have exhibited throughout preseason training. They aren't content with maintaining; they want a higher level.
Toward that end, Utah opened its season Monday at the same difficulty level that it used to win the '90 NCAA championship - and some Utes used more difficulty than ever. Marlowe upgraded everywhere except vault and performed that better, and sophomore Tracy Richard upgraded to score 9.75 on floor and 9.55 on bars.
Although the skill level was as high, Utah was short of its '90 NCAA-meet record score of 194.9.
Marsden was almost happy about that.
"We didn't execute as well as at nationals; that would be too much to expect," he said. "We had one and one-half points in deductions we could certainly have gotten rid of tonight. "But I think you want that," he said. "If we were too perfect in the first meet, the kids might get big heads and not be willing to work."
On floor, Marlowe did two double-backs for the first time since the 1988 Olympics. "I smiled all during my floor routine in workout, and that says a lot to me," said Marlowe. "It says I'm real close to where I was (in Seoul '88), to being in the same shape. My skills are comparable; I'm not sure they'll ever be better. How strong I am now at the end of a set is a good indication of where I am."
Other highlights were Amy Keller's 9.85 vault and Shelly Schaerrer's 9.85 floor exercise, both .5 off their school records. Schaerrer would have contended for the all-around had she not fallen from the beam.
Ute freshmen Missy Wells and Jenny Donaldson, both local products, handled the pressure of their first college meet and television well, said Marsden, who mentioned that as highest on the Utes' list of accomplishments. They contributed 9.55-9.65 scores in all of their events.
Turpin said his team was better Friday in its 190.1-186 win at Utah State, partly because some of his younger performers weren't used to television and meeting a No. 1 team. "We're capable of better," he said.
Marsden thought it was an emotional time for OSU freshman Chari Knight, the No. 1 recruit in the nation whom he tried hard to get, and for OSU's two Utahns, Sandy junior Donna Linder (9.5 bars, 9.4 beam) and Salt Lake sophomore Amy Durham (36.8 all-around, 9.3 vault, 8.75 bars, 9.2 beam and 9.55 floor).
Oregon State was without injured two-event specialist Linda Pierce and used NCAA two-event champion Joy Selig sparingly. Selig flew home immediately after the meet for probable knee surgery on cartilage damaged Friday. She'll be out about three weeks.
"Had we not gone against Utah in a TV meet, we probably would have held her out," said Turpin. "I appreciate the fact she was willing to go two events."
Selig scored 9.6 on bars and 9.3 with a near-fall on beam. The slip was unrelated to the knee problem.