Utah's balance beam team moved up to No. 2 in the final regular-season NCAA rankings last week, meaning it has solved the little foibles it had early in the season.
But now it's the postseason, and it will be up to the beamers to successfully close out the NCAA West Regional at the University of Washington in Seattle as the Utes bid for their unprecedented 34th straight trip to the national championships.
The meet is at 7 p.m. (MST) on Saturday.
The second-ranked Utes open Saturday's meet on the bye-before-floor, and that means they finish the meet on balance beam, the most difficult event to do when nerves are jittering.
And while Utah's beam team ranks No. 2 — the same as the Ute vault, bars and floor teams — it has the lowest season average (49.139) of the four. The floor workers average 49.243, the bars team averages 49.257 and the vaulters average 49.35.
Beam coach Megan Marsden, the Utes' associate head coach, has no qualms. "The one thing about doing it last is that we have practiced it quite a bit because all of our away meets end on (beam)," she said.
"I feel like my group this year has been excellent when we have had the meet on the line and headed to beam last. Georgia, we did a nice job. Nebraska, we did a nice job — the meet was within a point there. And the same thing at Oregon State — we were within a tenth there and went to beam, and my girls attacked beam. They didn't work cautiously."
Marsden admits the coaches look for any positives they can once they learn their rotation, but she said she's comfortable with her beamers going last. "I've told them that they do a good job with that," she said.
"And we love having a bye first because it puts us out on the floor at the end, which I think is good — to be competing right down to the end," Marsden said.
Utah must finish in the top two in the six-team meet to advance to the 2009 NCAA Championships at Nebraska April 16-18. Other teams at the West Regional are 11th-ranked Auburn, No. 14 Illinois, No. 19 Boise State, No. 33 Washington and No. 34 San Jose State. The rotations are determined by an NCAA draw. With six teams, each getting two byes, it's a long night, and Marsden also likes that Utah opens competition on floor. "We get to do the high-energy event first."
PRIMP TIME: Marsden's favorite reason for ending on beam, which means the Utes open the regional with a bye? "The girls and I like having that extra rotation to primp, for hair and makeup," she said.
"No, seriously, we do. All of us. We get just the bare minimum done to go do introductions, and then we come back, and we can finish," she said.
VET SET: Utah has a veteran lineup. Of those coach Greg Marsden has penciled into Saturday's regional competition, only one routine is new to the postseason. That's freshman Stephanie McAllister's leadoff on bars.
"As a freshman, I don't really know what to expect," McAllister said Monday, "but (my teammates have) helped me get ready for it and know what to expect more than I would without their help."2 comments on this story
She's both nervous and full of excitement. "Apprehensive is a good word, but I'm excited, too, and I think as a team we're ready," she said.
McAllister has been a bars regular since the second meet of the season and has a career high of 9.825, which she has reached twice. She has done vault (9.85 high) and floor (9.85) in numerous meets and is the alternate Saturday on beam and floor.
"I wish I could be doing more," McAllister said, "but I know that the older girls are all really good at what they're doing. I'm there if they need me, but they deserve their spots and everything. Our team has so much depth."