When the No. 1 Utah gymnasts host Cal-Fullerton in the Huntsman tonight at 7 p.m., they'll be five meets into a 13-meet season (assuming the defending national champions make the NCAA finals again).
And once this meet is over, the Utes will have just one more home meet (Georgia, March 9)."I didn't do it intentionally," says Ute Coach Greg Marsden about the odd schedule that uncharacteristically includes no home meets the second half of the season and no home postseason meets, either. "But if we use it right, it may work to our advantage," he says.
That's because the NCAA Championships are at Alabama. Utah beat the Tide 194.95-194.90 for the 1990 national title at neutral Oregon State, and Marsden pegs Alabama and Georgia as the main competition for the '91 title.
"So we need to be a very good road team, and this may be good for us in advance of that," Marsden says.
First, though, is the matter of Fullerton and one last chance to work in some new skills in front of the home crowd before three straight road meets.
Fullerton has moved from 19th in the rankings to 17th. That's lower than any team Utah's met on its path to a 4-0 mark and NCAA records for score (195.6) and all-around (Missy Marlowe, 39.5), both in their last meet, on Feb. 2.
The Titans were expected to be a top-10 team, but 16th-year Coach Lynn Rogers lost two all-arounders to season-ending injuries. They rebounded with a season-best 188.05 in their last meet.
Senior Stacy Harris has the best all-around score of 38.45 and has a 9.9 on vault. "They have three good all-arounders," observes Marsden, "but the support staff is a little weak." CSUF even pulled a student out of a physical education class to vault.
Marsden's troops will experiment with upgrades. Among them: Marlowe and Jessica Smith will do harder beam dismounts and Shelly Schaerrer will upgrade her second tumbling pass.
"I'm trying to be careful how many changes we implement in one meet; we want to avoid losing consistency," Marsden says. But the last time they upgraded - in the last meet - Marlowe scored three 9.9s, and Kristen Kenoyer and Schaerrer picked up one each.
Marsden wanted to toy with the all-around lineup for that meet, but the gymnasts asked him not to change a good thing. Tonight, "I'm not going to mess with it," he says. Utah will, however, go without freshman Missy Wells, who has back spasms.
There's good reason to stay pat: Of 96 routines this season, Utah's had just five misses and counted one fall. They've reached 9.8 scores 25 times with seven different performers - Marlowe, Schaerrer, Kenoyer, Smith, Tracy Richard and Jenny Donaldson). The Utes rank No. 1 nationally in every event. Marlowe is 16-for-16 in her routines and is the country's top scorer in the all-around.
Still Marsden worries. "Other than the first meet, the only people making occasional mistakes are the freshmen, and that's to be expected," he says. "Somewhere down the line, the upperclassmen will make a mistake or two. But," he adds, "it will be a freak incident, not anything consistent."