Corvallis • A little wide-eyed and just happy to be there, Utah’s gymnastics team didn’t fully realize the chance they had last year when they hosted the Pac-12 Championships.
Backed by their home crowd and a team laden with talent, the Utes came within a few complete routines of winning the school’s first Pac-12 title.
The Utes couldn’t finish the job. Both Kassandra Lopez and Mary Beth Lofgren fell off the balance beam. The mistakes were enough to cost the Utes the title. UCLA won with a 197.425, while Utah was second with a 197.375.
The Utes find themselves the favorite a year later. There is pressure that comes with a top seed, but there also is hope and determination for the Utes as well. After coming so close to a historic win in 2012, they are determined to not let another chance fall away.
Buoyed by the 198.125 they scored against Florida in the regular-season finale, the Utes feel if they can hit their routines, they can bring home Utah’s first league title.
“We’re all excited for the postseason because everyone has picked things up and it has all fallen into place for us,” Lofgren said. “It’s going to be a tough meet and there are some incredible teams in the session, and we know it’s going to come down to whoever has a great night.”
Utah never imagined it would be the No. 1 seed after losing Corrie Lothrop to a season-ending Achilles injury. While the Utes feel they’d be even stronger with her, sophomore Tory Wilson said the injury Lothrop suffered in the fourth meet proved to be their catalyst.
“Losing Corrie was the kick in the butt,” she said. “It was like, ‘OK, now we all have to work harder.’ It was encouraging what everyone tried to do.”
What they did was come together for one of Utah’s better finishes to the regular season. Since tying Washington on Feb. 15, the Utes broke the 197-point mark in their last four meets and haven’t had to count a fall.
They now feel primed to make a run for a title that eluded them a year ago in what turned out to be a good but frustrating lesson.
“It was a good experience because it was our first time and we were at home,” Georgia Dabritz said. “But coming so close to UCLA — it was a learning experience. They are a good team but looking at the rankings they’ve had some ups and downs this year, too.”
The Utes have been a much improved team on the balance beam in recent weeks. Saturday’s meet represents Utah’s biggest test of that improvement since the Utes will start on floor and end on balance beam. Finishing on the balance beam with chaos around them isn’t a scenario they would have picked, but the Utes are making the best of it.
They weren’t fazed by Georgia’s loud crowd and were able to compete well under pressure against Florida. Now, as they learned last year, they have to do it again, lest a chance for history slip away.
“We’ve ended on beam a million times, it seems, this season,” Lofgren said. “As long as we can have a good start, that will carry us through the rest.”
The Pac-12 Championships
O At Corvallis, Ore.
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. MDT
TV • Pac-12 Network
Session 1 • Arizona, Washington, Arizona State, Cal
Session 2 • Utah, UCLA, Oregon State, Stanford
Past conference winners
2012 • UCLA
2011 • Oregon State
2010 • UCLA
2009 • UCLA
2008 • Stanford
2007 • UCLA
Pac-12 Teams at a glance
Ranking and Season high • No. 17/196.625
Series vs. Utah • Utah leads 52-0
Top all-arounder and high score • Aubrey Cristello 39.475
Ranking and Season high • No. 26/196.625
Series vs. Utah • Utah leads 44-0-2
Top all-arounder and high score • Lauren Rogers 39.375
Ranking and Season high • No. 28/196.025
Series vs. Utah • Utah leads 64-16-1
Top all-arounder and high score • Stephanie Miceli 38.95
Ranking and Season high • No. 31/196.525
Series vs. Utah • Utah leads 10-0
Top all-arounder and high score • Alicia Asturias 39.375
Ranking and Season high • No. 7/198.125
Top all-arounder and high score • Georgia Dabritz 39.7
Ranking and Season high • No. 8/197.425
Series vs. Utah • Utah leads 43-22-1
Top all-arounder and high score • Vanessa Zamarripa 39.675
Ranking and Season high • No. 10/197.275
Series vs. Utah • Utah leads 60-8-0
Top all-arounder and high score • Makayla Stambaugh 39.6
Ranking and Season high • No. 11/197.275
Series vs. Utah • Utah leads 20-5
Top all-arounder and high score • Ivana Hong and Ashley Morgan 39.55