Utah’s gymnastics team tried to downplay its meet against No. 2 Florida on Saturday, saying the clash with the SEC team was more about their own improvement than beating the Gators.
Nice try. But if the Utes are going to play that game, they first should first have taken down the Gator that has been hanging by a rope in their practice gym this week.
The Utes have plenty of rivals in gymnastics, particularly now that they are in a conference. Longtime series with UCLA, Oregon State and nonconference teams such as Michigan and Nebraska have given the Utes plenty of memorable meets, but there is still something about those SEC teams that continues to grate on them.
Georgia got the better of Utah last week. Now the Utes, try as they might to take the pressure off themselves, really don’t want to end their regular season at home with a loss.
Hanging Gators in the practice gym and the “I Hate the SEC” T-shirts traditionally worn in recent seasons are indications enough of how much the Utes would like to win.
“A win would definitely be the icing on the cake,” junior Lia Del Priore said of the season. “We’re trying to not approach this meet any differently, and we know they are extremely talented, but we are going to do the best we can.”
The Utes haven’t beaten the Gators in the regular season since 2009, and suffered one of their most frustrating losses in recent years in Gainesville last season, losing 197.9-196.475 after a poor start on the uneven bars.
That the Utes are even talking about hanging with the Gators — and maybe even upsetting one of the national title favorites — speaks to the job they have done this year.
While they’ve been inconsistent on the uneven bars and balance beam, the Utes have also improved enough to be the highest-ranked team in the Pac-12 despite the loss of their best gymnast, Corrie Lothrop.
Would a win over the Gators be too much to ask of a team so young it doesn’t even have any seniors to honor Saturday?
Utah coach Greg Marsden doesn’t believe so.
The Utes haven’t broken the 198 mark like Florida has, but Marsden insists his team still has room to improve. Case in point was last week’s loss at Georgia. Utah scored a 196.975 in one of its best efforts on the balance beam and uneven bars, but had some uncharacteristic deductions in its strongest events.
“I still don’t feel like we’ve put it all together,” he said. “We had some errors that weren’t typical for us last week and we could have easily been in the mid-197 rage if we had done what we typically do on those events. I don’t feel like we’ve peaked, and we go into each meet working toward that.”
Even though they lost at Georgia, the Utes left the arena feeling better about themselves after solid performances on their trouble events.
Of course, they’d feel even better if they could knock off the Gators.
“Talent-wise, they are a much stronger team than we are,” Marsden said. “But with that being said, we are going to go in there and give it our best shot. If we can put some pressure on them, who knows, you may just have a competition.”
No. 2 Florida at No. 7 Utah
O Huntsman Center
Meet time • Saturday, 6 p.m.
Records • Utah 9-2-1; Florida 8-1
TV • Pac-12 Network
Live scoring • utahutes.com
About the Utes • Utah is coming off a 197.65-196.975 loss to Georgia. … Tory Wilson has won every vault competition this year. … The Utes haven’t beaten Florida in the regular season since 2009. … Breanna Hughes was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week after scoring 9.8 on the uneven bars and 9.875 on the balance beam at Georgia.
About the Gators • They have the highest score in the nation this year, a 198.425 against Minnesota. … Were off last week. … Bridget Sloan is tied for No. 2 on the uneven bars with a 9.92 average. … Mackenzie Caquatto is No. 2 on the balance beam with a 9.905 average.