No southern hospitality expected for U. gymnasts
Published: March 8, 2013 12:58PM
Updated: May 31, 2013 11:33PM
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Mary Beth Lofgren, University of Utah Gymnastics September 18, 2010 in Salt Lake City. (Photo/Steve C. Wilson)

Athens, Ga. • Utah coach Greg Marsden giggled earlier this week when he was asked whether the Utes would be the favorites when they competed at Georgia on Saturday.

His response was that if anyone thought Utah’s slim margin in the rankings gave the Utes any edge, then they “haven’t been to a Georgia gymnastics meet before.”

Luckily, the Utes are veterans at knowing what to expect in Athens, a town known for enthusiastically supporting its gymnastics program to the point where many a team has succumbed to the hostile atmosphere.

The Utes were victims of that intimidation in the past, but since Suzanne Yoculan’s retirement, the series momentum has swung back in favor of the Utes.

They’ve won the last three meets and look at Saturday’s showdown as a way to establish themselves as a serious contender in the post season.

If they can do well at Georgia, the thinking is, they can do well in any atmosphere.

“I’d rather do this and be in this kind of situation at the end of the season than schedule some easy meets,” Utah coach Greg Marsden said. “You do that and you can fool yourselves into thinking we are maybe better than we are. Here, I’d rather use the time left to address those areas that we need to address and get stronger all the way to the end.”

For the Utes those areas are mainly mental ones. While the Utes did well at BYU, scoring their best road effort since 2009, they know the atmosphere in Athens will be drastically different than it was at BYU, where their fans outnumbered the Cougars’.

The Utes escaped with a 195.9-195.8 win over Georgia the last time they were here, but in other instances they’ve been rocked harder than the bands the college town is known for producing thanks in part to the sometimes wild atmosphere.

“It’s a tough environment and a different arena than we are used to,” junior Mary Beth Lofgren said. “But that comes as part of the sport and some motivation to do well in it is good for us. It definitely helps to go in different arenas and atmospheres to get us ready for the post season.”

Marsden would like to see the Utes do better than they did last year when they went to Florida. In an environment similar to Georgia’s, the Utes had two major breaks on the uneven bars that took them out of the meet right away. The Utes went on to lose 197-196.225.

“We didn’t handle that well but we’ve done a lot of growing up since then,” he said. “This should be good for us. We’ve talked a lot about the need to get ready for their student section. They’ll probably be barking and holding up newspapers while we are on the floor to ignore us and that kind of thing. They may not have experienced it before, but they need to learn to deal with it.”

No. 7 Utah at No. 8 Georgia

P Saturday, 4 p.m.

Records • Utah 9-1-1; Georgia 6-6-1

Live scoring • utahutes.com

About the Utes • Utah is coming off its highest road score since 2009. ... Utah has won the past three meets against Georgia. ... The only meet a Utah gymnast hasn’t won the bars was in the opener against UCLA. ... Utah’s last regular season meet is March 16 against Florida.

About the Gym Dawgs • Has the nation’s top-ranked bar worker in Chelsea Davis (9.935 RQS). ... Georgia leads the series 9-3 in Athens. ... Coached by Danna Durante, who was the head coach at Cal in 2012 and was an assistant at Nebraska from 2006-11.