College gymnastics: Utah heads into Pac-12 meet as top seed
When defending Pac-12 all-around champion Corrie Lothrop tore her Achilles tendon and was lost for the season, her teammates vowed they'd make up for absence.
They've stayed true to their word, putting the Utes in a surprising situation as they prepare for Saturday's Pac-12 Championships at Oregon State.
The seventh-ranked Utes will be the top seed thanks to their regional qualifying score of 197.01. Defending champion UCLA, which beat the Utes in the season opener, is right behind them at No. 8 with a 197.0 average. Also competing in the night session, which starts at 8 p.m. MDT, will be No. 10 and host Oregon State (196.790) and No. 11 Stanford (196.59).
Competing in the early session Saturday will be No. 17 Arizona (196.09), Washington (195.765), Arizona State (195.495) and California (195.24).
While the winner can technically come from either session, it's expected the champion will be crowned from the evening group.
Utah's position as the meet favorite brings great satisfaction to a team that not only has made up for Lothrop's absence but also All-American Kailah Delaney, who has missed the season with a knee injury.
"I give a lot of credit to this team for stepping up and bringing their game to another level," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "We have seen all those teams and we know it is going to be a heck of a meet. It will be like last year's when it went back and forth all night and it is going to take one team getting really hot to win it."
Utah is coming off a 198.125-197.875 win over Florida, which moved up to No. 1 this week, giving the Utes plenty of confidence for Saturday's contest.
"At the beginning of the season we were really struggling on beam and bars," sophomore Tory Wilson said. "These last couple of weeks have really helped us and we are excited."
Unfortunately for the Utes, being the top seed doesn't give them the preferred rotation of starting on vault. The competition order was selected at random ahead of time and it was determined the No. 1 see would start on the floor.
The Utes are looking at the rotation as a positive since floor is one of their best events.
"We're hoping it can help start us off with a high score," sophomore Georgia Dabritz said.
Dabritz's 10.0 on the uneven bars marked the first time the Utes had three perfect scores in a season since 2008, when Ashley Postell earned perfect marks on the vault twice and balance beam once.
Earlier this year Lia Del Priore earned a 10.0 on the floor and Wilson earned a perfect mark on the vault.
The Utes had several others flirt with 10.0s on Saturday with Dabritz earning a 9.975 on the floor, Wilson a 9.975 on the vault and Becky Tutka a 9.975 on the floor.
That the Utes are earning 10.0s more frequently is a good thing after several seasons in which judges got conservative, Marsden said.
"I don't want to see them coming all the time, but for a long time it seemed like the judges were determined to not give a 10.0 anymore," he said. "I am happy to see the occasional one and it should take a special performance. But it allowed us to get on ESPN's Top 10 Plays of the Day."
Wilson is the first Utah gymnast to finish the regular season undefeated. Wilson, who is ranked No. 2 nationally with a 9.96 average on the vault, tied Florida's Kytra Hunter for the title Saturday with a 9.975.
The score was enough to boost Hunter to first in the rankings with a 9.965 season average.
The Utes find out on Monday where they will compete in the NCAA Regionals. Right now, West Virginia or Ohio State could be likely destinations. Both would be difficult regionals with No. 6 LSU and No. 18 Illinois projected to be with the Utes at Ohio State. Fifth-ranked Georgia, No. 8 UCLA and No. 17 Arizona could land at West Virginia.
"Both regionals could be dangerous," Marsden said. "Both of those teams [West Virginia and Ohio State] do well at home so neither one of those look easy."
1. Florida 197.7
2. Oklahoma 197.57
3. Alabama 197.26
4. Michigan 197.175
5. Georgia 197.16
6. LSU 197.065
7. Utah 197.01
8. UCLA 197.0
9. Nebraska 196.84
10. Oregon State 196.79
11. Stanford 196.59
12. Auburn 196.51
13. Denver 196.47
14. Minnesota and Penn State 196.365
16. Arkansas 196.285
17. Arizona 196.09
18. Illinois 196.08
19. Kentucky 196.09
20. Ohio State 195.825
21. Kent State 195.815
22. Maryland and Central Michigan 195.81
24. Boise State 195.785
25. West Virginia 195.78