Not since 1980 have Utah, Utah State and Brigham Young loaded up their women's gymnastics teams, put them on planes and headed as a trifecta selection to the national collegiate women's gymnastics championships.
Utah and Utah State and half of the BYU coaching staff left Salt Lake International Tuesday, and the rest of the BYU team was to leave Wednesday morning for the NCAA Championships in Tuscaloosa, Ala.The last time all three traveled to the same championships, it was the old AIAW finals held at Lousiana State 11 years ago, in nearly the same neck o' the woods as this weekend's much more upscale NCAA meet at University of Alabama.
Since the LSU finals, the state's teams have had very divergent paths, Utah winning the next six national championships (through 1986) and adding a seventh title last year. Utah State kept plugging away but always seemed dogged by poor luck, narrowly missing the finals field for the past several years before finally qualifying this year. And BYU languished uncompetitively until 31/2 years ago when a new coaching staff and emphasis was brought in.
Now all three are again in the top sixth of the nation's gymnastics teams.
All three state of Utah entrants go into this meet, however, seeded lower than they were ranked in the final NCAA poll.
Utah was rated No. 1 all year, its scoring average a point ahead of anyone else in the country and with a couple of NCAA-record totals.
The Utes, though, go into Friday's team championships as the No. 2 seed behind host Alabama, which scored nearly two points above its average in the NCAA Central Regional April 6, totaling 195.575, just .25 behind Utah's national-record score. The regional score counts two-thirds toward a team's seeding at the national finals, and Alabama's National Qualifying Score computed in at 194.9467 to Utah's 194.7133.
BYU was ranked sixth going into the regional (the Midwest, at Arizona, along with Utah and Utah State) and came out of it seeded ninth. USU went into the regional ranked seventh but goes into nationals seeded 11th.
This despite pretty decent regional meets from all three.
What happened? What often happens. Scoring isn't an absolute, even if team scores are, and one or two regionals exceed others in generosity. Both the Midwest Regional, at Arizona, and the West, at Oregon State, were scored tighter than the Central or the Northeast (at New Hampshire). The Southeast, at Georgia, drew the lowest comparative scores.
"The scores in our regional," says Utah Coach Greg Marsden, "were very accurate. You had to earn a score, but all the teams were pretty right-on with their season averages."
Marsden says the seed doesn't make a big difference. "We know it's going to be a close championship," he says, noting Oregon State and Georgia, the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds but both ranked higher than that during the season, are also gunning for the title. "It's obviously a four-team race," Marsden says.
Marsden is not surprised that fourth-ranked Alabama came on strong late in the season. The Tide did what the Utes usually do - they started slowly and peaked. Marsden's been saying all along that Alabama, the 1988 NCAA champ, would be ready for the championships on its home floor.
"We took a little different approach," Marsden says. The Utes put in major moves earlier than ever this year.