Even with all the fanfare that comes with hosting the school’s first Pac-12 event, the circus atmosphere of having four teams together on the floor and the fact that they are competing against six of the nation’s Top 25 teams, the Utah Utes have maintained a singular focus — the Pac-12 Championships might be a milestone for Utah’s program, but for the gymnasts it’s just another meet.
At least that is the way they want to look at it.
“If we put too much stock into the Pac-12s and make it big, we could freak out,” said senior Cortni Beers. “We have to look at it as just another meet against Oregon State or UCLA.”
Putting themselves in such a mental outlook might be difficult, given the amped-up pressure that comes in the postseason, but Utah’s gymnasts believe it represents their best chance of winning the school’s first Pac-12 title.
Fourth-ranked UCLA, which beat Utah 195.7-195.3 in the season opener, is the favored team but the Utes believe they can win, despite their recent struggles.
“We’ve had some rocky meets, but it doesn’t show how good we are,” senior Stephanie McAllister said. “We are a talented team and we know we are a good team, we’ve just had trouble putting it altogether in a meet. We’ve had issues but we are capable of doing so much more and hopefully we can show that in the last couple of weeks.”
To win, the Utes likely will have to have a mistake-free meet. In a dual meet they might be able to get away with a major mistake or two and still prevail, but the chances of doing that and beating the Bruins, No. 8 Oregon State and No. 11 Stanford in their 7 p.m. session are extremely slim.
Though the odds are longer, the winner could also come out of the 2 p.m. session, which features No. 17 Arizona, No. 22 Washington, Arizona State and California.
Knowing his team has enough pressure on it, Utah coach Greg Marsden is taking the tactic of not dwelling on the past results but focusing on the future and what the Utes can do to be successful Saturday. That means putting so-called blinders on and not worrying about what the other teams are doing. The approach worked well for the Utes at the beginning of the season.
“This team works hard,” he said. “I think it’s a case of where maybe they want it so desperately, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot and the mistakes have just been perplexing. They’ve been trying too hard and second-guessing themselves and not competing like they can.”
Despite their desire to treat the Pac-12s as any other meet, the Utes say hosting the championships is an honor. The Utes have competed as an independent for most of their history. They admit going to NCAA events and hearing other schools chanting “SEC” or “Pac-10” irritated them, but now they get it, they say.
“It’s an exciting time for us and to be in the Huntsman Center, it’s going to be awesome,” McAllister said. “But at this point we can’t focus on winning the first Pac-12. We have to focus on other things and try not to worry about the outcome and take it one step at a time and not get ahead of ourselves and get more flustered.”
Working in the Utes’ favor is the blind draw that gave them the Olympic rotation of opening on vault and ending on floor and the advantage of competing in front of their fans. The Utes averaged 14,352 fans in the regular season so a large crowd plus the other teams on the floor shouldn’t distract them, the gymnasts say.
“I love competing in the Huntsman Center,” freshman Georgia Dabritz said. “But we have to focus on making our own energy and staying focused and make it work for us.”
Pac-12 Championships Guide
At the Huntsman Center
Afternoon session, 2 p.m.
Final ranking • 17
Season high • 196.525
Coach • Bill Ryden, 14th year
Top all-arounder • Aubree Cristello (39.475)
Of note • Posted season-high 196.525 in final meet of regular season
Final ranking • 22
Season high • 196.35
Coach • Joanne Bowers, 6th year
Top all-arounder • Ruby Engreitz (39.325)
Of note • Posted 196 or higher two meets in a row
Final ranking • 26
Season high • 195.875
Coach • John Spini, 32nd year
Top all-arounder • Beate Jones (39.3)
Of note • Lost to the Utes 196.15-194
Final ranking • 49
Season high • 195.875
Coach • Danna Durante, 1st year
Top all-arounder • Mariesah Pierce (39.15)
Of note • Scored season-high 48.75 on balance beam and second-best score on floor of 48.525 in last meet
Evening session, 7 p.m.
Final ranking • 4
Season high • 198.05
Coach • Valorie Kondos Field, 22nd year
Top all-arounder • Vanessa Zamarripa (39.625)
Of note • Leads the league with 15 conference titles
Final ranking • 7
Season high • 197.55
Coaches • Greg Marsden, 37th year; Megan Marsden, 3rd year
Top all-arounder • Corrie Lothrop (39.575)
Of note • Went 3-1 against Pac-12 teams this year, losing to UCLA
Final ranking • 8
Season high • 197.4
Coach • Tanya Chaplin, 15th year
Top all-arounder • Leslie Mak (39.675)
Of note • OSU won the Pac-10 last year. … Mak has scored at least 39.4 six times this year
Final ranking • 11
Season high • 198.05
Coach • Kristen Smyth, 11th year
Top all-arounder • Ashley Morgan (39.3)
Of note • Last won conference in 2008. … Was off last week