After nearly a month, the Lady Ute gymnasts finally have another home meet tonight at 7:30 in the Huntsman Center, and, while Patti Massoels may not be at full strength, Coach Greg Marsden says there will be a noticeable upgrade in the difficulty of Utah's routines.
In other words, those huge scores the Utes have been earning on the road could well come home with them tonight when Oklahoma, New Mexico and Stanford visit."We've always tried to progress and look like a different team at the end of the season," Marsden says. "This is the beginning of the second season - the final push to the end. We will add quite a bit for this meet."
Senior Hilarie Portell says, "Now we're trying to upgrade and do the skills we'll do at nationals. The second half of the season," she says, "you work more on performance in pressure situations, perfection under any circumstances."
The Utes didn't change much in their three road meets, just wanting to learn to compete well on the road because the NCAA finals are at Georgia this year. "The main thing on the road," says Portell, "is to be clean and consistent."
Marsden says he also didn't want Georgia, Florida and Alabama to know too soon what Utah would aspire to in nationals, so he kept a lid on things for the last meet at Alabama.
That Feb. 18 meet saw Utah hit a school-record 192.55 but lose to the Tide, which broke the national record by two points, 194.3. Utah's other road scores were 190.20 at Arizona State and 190.55 in a loss at Oklahoma. The Sooners had a school-record 190.70.
Those scores gave Utah, 5-2, a better average for road meets than for home meets and left the Utes with the best overall average in the country.
But scores at Alabama and Oklahoma weren't so indicative because they started high and got higher; the Utes had falls and misses in both meets.
Tonight, Marsden wants similar numbers inspired by increased skills.
"I'm real pleased with where we are," he said, noting that everybody except Massoels is healthier than they've been all season.
Massoels hit hard on the balance beam in practice Friday, and Marsden won't know until meet-time how much she'll be able to do. She's consistently among the Utes' top three all-around scorers and has a best of 38.25 this season. Missy Marlowe has scored 38.75, Jessica Smith 38.40 and Shelly Schaerrer 38.35.
"She's a big gun for us," Marsden says of Massoels, who was scheduled to upgrade in tumbling and at the end of her uneven bars routine.
Helping to make up for any loss of Massoels, Kristi Pinnick will go all-around, although one event may be done as exhibition, and Kris Takahashi will do more than last week, when she was slowed by an auto accident in which she hit her head on the windshield and injured a hand.
Marlowe will unveil a new bar set, Portell will add to the end of her bar routine, Smith is getting stronger following a preseason injury and Schaerrer has added to her tumbling and upgraded her bar dismount.
Though Oklahoma beat the Utes three weeks ago, Marsden says Utah's depth should carry his team tonight. Oklahoma, 12-3, is led by senior Cassie Frey, with an all-around best of 38.65, accomplished twice. Tatiana Figueiredo scored 38.6 against Utah.
Stanford, 2-5, has the best team it's ever had, but it set a school record of 186.30 two weeks ago. Sheri Evenson (37.45) is the top all-arounder.
New Mexico carries a 3-5 record and also set a school-record score, 187.70, last week. Junior Lisa Pank has a best of 37.85, and senior Iliana Carillo scored 37.85 last week.