SALT LAKE CITY — Ever since 1997, when the NCAA women's gymnastics championships were staged at Florida — and Nebraska won a tiebreaker with Utah that put the 'Huskers in the Super Six team finals and left the Utes out of the finals and in seventh place — the two programs have been friendly rivals.
Well, the 2010 NCAA championships will be at Florida again in April, and Nebraska will be in Utah's Huntsman Center tonight at 7 for Cancer Awareness Night, when fans wearing pink will get free general admission.
Ute coach Greg Marsden feels the competitive juices.
"They're the ones — two times (at the NCAAs) we were tied, they went in ahead of us. Either them or us, Super Six," he said.
But, in truth, ninth-ranked Utah (6-2) has more to worry about than 11th-ranked Nebraska (13-2), though Marsden does point to this meet as one of those times when his team must test itself against good competition.
"We have team goals, and each individual has goals, regardless of who we're competing against," said fifth-year Ute senior Beth Rizzo. "It's just, concentrate on the goals that we have set up for ourselves rather than who we're competing against because, ultimately, each competition is just preparing for regionals and nationals. It's not so much who we're competing against now."
Adds junior Kyndal Robarts, coming off her career all-around high of 39.375 last week at BYU, "We try to go into each meet knowing what we need to do for us and not focusing on the opponent, because that doesn't really get you anywhere.
"Last week was a step forward, even if beam wasn't where we hoped it would be, and this week will be two steps forward."
Marsden is perplexed "because I feel like we've made some progress, but then we have two falls on beam, and instead of going 196.50 we go 195.50 or whatever it was.
"So I feel like we're close. We've just got to put it together."
Beam has been the sticking point the last two weeks. The Utes counted beam falls at both Michigan and BYU, resulting in two of their three lowest total scores of the season, 195.10 and 195.525.
Hoping to stem that, the coaches have altered sophomore Stephanie McAllister's routine slightly.
"Beam is more a mental event than any of them," said co-coach Megan Marsden, who runs the team's beam event. "You can start to over-think and start to lose your confidence, and I think that's where Steph is."
They're working with her to think ahead and not back to the misses. "She's anxious for advice," Megan Marsden said.
McAllister's ankle, which she sprained at Michigan on beam, seems better, and Greg Marsden said Thursday she will likely return to the all-around vs. Nebraska.
She is the only one of Utah's injured gymnasts who is expected back this week. Rizzo had hoped to return from a torn toe tendon, but Tuesday she tried running on the vault and had to stop after two times.
"It was a little bit of a downer, but it's stuff like that that makes you appreciate being out there," said Rizzo. "It will give me that little bit of extra motivation to push through practices because I know for sure it's better than sitting out. It's hard to sit back and watch."
Gael Mackie (ankle) is "getting closer but still not landing on hard surfaces yet," Greg Marsden said, "and Kate (Mohr, back) is better but still not landing on hard surfaces."
Nebraska's high is a 196.475 on Feb. 12. It hit a 196.425 in a home quad meet last week, and it owns a victory over Michigan — the team that gave Utah its last loss. Maria Scaffidi (39.30 high) has won three all-arounds this season.
Ute women's gymnastics
No. 9 Utah (6-2)
vs No. 11 Nebraska (13-2)
Today, 7 p.m.
Cancer Awareness Night: Fans wearing pink get free general admission