Whether they could qualify for the NCAA gymnastics championships wasn’t really the question for Utah’s eighth-ranked gymnasts Saturday.
The Utes’ real challenge was whether they could solve their issues on the balance beam and be good enough to avenge their loss to fifth-ranked Nebraska.
Utah answered those questions with a resounding yes as the Utes scored a 196.825 to win the NCAA Regional title in front of 6,558 at the Huntsman Center.
Nebraska was second with a 196.525, followed by Minnesota (194.8), Arizona State (194.4), San Jose State (193.4) and Iowa State (193.15).
The title is the 27th regional championship for the Utes, who qualified for their 31st straight NCAA Championship appearance with the win.
The victory was a much-needed boost of confidence for the Utes, who struggled late in the season to compete with the crisp routines and authority they displayed earlier in the year.
That caliber of gymnastics was present once again in the Utes, who scored a 49.025 on the balance beam to clinch the victory.
“It was nice to finally get a win,” said senior Kyndal Robarts, who tied for the floor title with a 9.9. “We’ve been in a slump of meets and to hit 24-of-24 felt great.”
The Huskers will also make the trip to Duluth, Ga., for the championships April 20-22 since the top two teams advance from each regional. But at least now the Utes know they can beat the Huskers and perform well under pressure.
That last task escaped them late in the year when Utah lost to the Huskers at home, lost at Florida and suffered two falls on the balance beam to blow their opportunity to win Utah’s first Pac-12 title.
In the two weeks since that meet, the Utes have talked of the need for competing with more edginess, more attitude.
They showed right away they meant what they said as the Utes had one of their best floor rotations, scoring a 49.325. Robarts tied her career high of 9.9 to lead the way.
“The last two weeks we’ve talked about getting back to having fun,” Robarts said. “When we’ve done that, we’ve been at our best.”
While the Utes were commanding the floor, the Huskers were showing their first signs of nerves on the balance beam, struggling to a 48.975.
The Huskers didn’t have any falls, but several gymnasts had enough breaks to lower the score to put the region title well within the Utes’ grasp.
It was a much different performance from Nebraska than the last time it was in Salt Lake City, when it scored a 49.3 on the beam en route to the 197.6-197.45 win over the Utes.
Nebraska wasn’t the only team struggling. Minnesota had trouble on the uneven bars, and Iowa State and Arizona State couldn’t conquer the beam, leaving the Utes in solid control.
Despite the way the Utes were rolling through their events, anyone who has followed the team this season knew their biggest test would be the last event, the balance beam.
Nebraska was finished with its meet by the time the Utes went to the beam, leaving the Utes knowing all they had to do was deliver an average score and they’d win.
They handled the situation well, scoring the 49.025.
“At times beam has been our best event and at times it has cost us,” said Utah coach Greg Marsden. “It was good for us to have that performance as we prepare for championships to regain our confidence.”
The Utes aren’t done with Nebraska just yet. The teams will be paired in the same session at nationals, a situation the Utes have been in in the past.
“We have so much respect for Nebraska,” Marsden said. “They are well-coached and they do a good job. Often it seems it’s one or the other that moves on to the Super Six, and we understand every team that is there is a good team.”
Storylines Utes take care of business
R In short • The Utes qualify for their 31st NCAA Championship and win their 27th regional title.
Key moment • Sophomore Corrie Lothrop is put in the leadoff spot on beam and scores a 9.775 to start Utah’s rotation.
Key stat • The Utes’ solid performance throughout leaves them needing only a 48.725 on the beam to tie Nebraska for the title. The Utes deliver a 49.025.
P April 20-22At Duluth, Ga.
Seeds based on National Qualifying Score, which is the regional qualifying score combined with the regional meet score:
Group 1 • 1. Florida 394.77, 4. Alabama 394.27, 5. Georgia 394.095, 8. Arkansas 393.37, 9. Oregon State 393.21, 12. Ohio State 392.47
Group 2 • 2. UCLA 394.495, 3. Oklahoma 394.385, 6. Nebraska 393.555, 7. Utah 393.53, 10. Stanford 393.085, 11. LSU 392.645
Note • Top three teams from each session will advance to the Super Six.