SALT LAKE CITY — Even before Tory Wilson became the 2013 season’s silver lining, Greg Marsden saw in her the kind of competitor upon which a team could rely.
“She’s always been a very good competitor,” said Marsden of the sophomore, who will put her nine-meet win streak on the line against the country's No. 2 ranked Florida Gators Saturday in the Red Rocks' final home meet of the season. “She’s a very relaxed competitor. She’s a very fun-loving person. Her personality, her demeanor, it’s not one of pressure and nerves. It’s enthusiasm and fun. And that’s exactly what you want and where you want others to be too.”
Last year, Wilson’s contribution on vault earned her All-American honors.
But even then her goal was to compete in the all-around. When the team lost defending Pac-12 all-around champion Corrie Lothrop during its fourth meet of the season, a devastating loss turned out to be Wilson’s golden opportunity.
“I didn’t want Corrie to get hurt, but the fact that we needed to fill her sports was the perfect opportunity for me,” said Wilson. “It was just my chance to jump in and help and show I could do all-around.”
Marsden said Wilson is unique in that not only does she acknowledge shortcomings, she works hard to overcome them.
“Over the summer and preseason, she worked hard on her weaknesses,” he said. “Even before Corrie went down, she was doing more for us.”
She was the bright spot of the season-opener against UCLA when tied for the night’s best score on vault. That performance began a streak of nine straight wins or ties that have earned her the nation's No. 1 ranking this season. Her best score came Feb. 9 against Cal when she earned a perfect 10 — the first of her career and the first of two the Utes have earned this season.
The night she earned her perfect score, she also won the all-around. Keep in mind that was the 19-year-old’s first collegiate all-around competition.
“I did surprise myself,” she said with a little laugh. “Being in the all-around has always been one of my goals.”
In a season of uncertainty and change, Wilson has become the team’s foundation.
Her win streak is a point of pride, but nothing she’s worried about maintaining.
“It does add a little bit of pressure, but I really try not to think about it because it will just keep adding pressure. I don’t want that. I just try to go out and do my best and see where it ends up.”
The accolades she’s received have given her confidence, but it won’t be any consolation if the team doesn’t have success in the postseason, she said.
“It shows that I’m good at what I like to do,” she said. “Vault isn’t necessarily my favorite, but it’s definitely a comfort zone I want to try (to keep the win streak going), but if it doesn’t go that way, I won’t be upset about it.”
She said she’s always relished having others rely on her.
“I do like that,” she said smiling. “It’s a little bit more pressure, but I like the fact that when I do well, it helps the team. In club, it’s not really that team oriented. Since I’ve been here, I really do like the fact that people can count on me. I would much rather win the team awards than the vault or individual awards.”
As the season has progressed, Wilson has become more comfortable and confident in her role as a key contributor.
“When Corrie went down, that opened a couple of places up for her,” Marsden said. “She really took it up a notch. She learned a new bar routine and has really taken advantage of the opportunities of being out there and competing.”
Part of that, Marsden said, is just her personality.
“I think she really helps to keep things positive,” he said. “She helps people remember that this is supposed to be fun.”
Her teammates say Wilson’s success has been the highlight of the season that has seen steady improvement in the young team. They're currently ranked No. 7 and have high expectations heading into Saturday's final home meet against the storied Gators. The meet begins at 6 p.m., with alumni introductions at 5:40 p.m. and will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
Simply asking about Wilson makes the gymnasts grin.
“I think Tory has been the biggest surprise of this year,” said Georgia Dabritz, another sophomore all-around champ. “She’s really stepped it up.”
Adds junior Mary Beth Lofgren, “We all know she’s talented. But she kind of came in as the underdog and just surprised everybody with just how well she’s done on all four of the events. She’s done a great job.” Even Wilson admits the speed and depth of her success have shocked her — just a little.
“I don’t think I could have expected all of the stuff that’s happened this season,” Wilson said, the smile spreading across her face again. “It’s definitely been fun.”