SALT LAKE CITY — On "Valentine's Sweetheart" night, Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden tossed out a valentine to his team.
"I love this group," he said of a club full of freshmen who approach gymnastics in a manner seemingly beyond their years. They don't get flustered by much of anything, they perform better every week, and when they get back in the gym, they're ready to fix the mistakes they've made.
Friday night in the Huntsman Center, the third-ranked Utes posted season–high team totals in every event, helped by an explosion of 9.90 and better scores, and obviously posted their season high, 196.975, in beating 13th-ranked Washington (195.475).
"It's another step forward," said Marsden, whose team has turned the season into a fairly steady march in the right direction.
This Ute team had been a little short on 9.90-and-above scores through its first five meets, scoring exactly one per meet.
But on Friday, there were seven of them, including three on bars and two on floor, which made up a bit for the early part of the floor lineup still having some of the small errors that have needed fixing lately. The errors were all but blown away when junior Stephanie McAllister (career-high 9.90) and freshman Corrie Lothrop (career-high 9.925) stepped on the mat.
Those two were battling for the night's all-around championship, and Lothrop won it for the second week in a row, scoring 39.50, advancing the career high she'd had last week, 39.425.
"We just keep building every week," said Lothrop, speaking of the team, though her words described her own gymnastics performance as well.
McAllister totaled 39.475, having had a career-best 9.925 on bars of her own. Lothrop had 9.90 on bars to go with a career-best 9.90 from senior Gael Mackie.
For McAlister, the 9.90 on floor was especially gratifying, as it broke a 9.85 career-high she's reached a dozen times in the past.
The night's other 9.90s went to freshman Mary Beth Lofgren for a career-best on vault and to tie her career-best on beam.
It's unusual for a freshman to anchor beam, but Lofgren's been doing it for the last four meets and hasn't disappointed.
"She does a great job," said Marsden, noting that Lofgren, who grew up coming to Ute meets, has a good grasp of just how important that anchor spot is.
"I felt like I was really ready. I feel honored they would trust me in that spot," said Lofgren. "I feel more comfortable."
Lofgren's floor score was adjusted upward to 9.80 after Utah petitioned for a review of the skills she does because, said Marsden, sometimes judges don't give her credit for some of the things in her routine. The Utes won the inquiry.
Marsden was particularly pleased with bars, where Utah posted its highest score of the night, 49.375. Marsden said he doesn't think they can do much better than that, though freshman anchor Nansy Damianova stepped out of her dismount a bit. The other dismounts were pretty well planted, in Marsden's mind, and handstands and other critical elements were improved, with Lothrop and Damianova each adding another release move.
While it was billed as "Sweetheart" night, it was also Alumnae night, with 29 former Ute gymnasts introduced on the floor prior to the meet. Ute football coach Kyle Whittingham and wife Jamie were seated front-row.
Another former Ute, sophomore Meg Whitney, is on the Washington roster. She transferred out after last season. And another Utahn is on the Huskies' roster, Kylie Sharp of Herriman. Sharp scored 9.65 on bars. Whitney scored 9.80 on vault, 9.70 on beam and had 9.50 on an exhibition bars routine. As a Ute last year, she competed in two meets, doing two vaults and one beam.
Utah opened the meet with a season-high 49.325 on vault, led by 9.90 from Lofgren, who said that event just started things rolling.
"We just had a really great night. We started off great on vault and kept going," she said.
Utah completes its four-meet homestand next Friday when No. 8 Michigan is in town. The Utes will have just one more home meet after that.