Utah’s gymnastics team got what it expected and a little more on Monday when the fields for the NCAA Regional Championships were announced.
The ninth-ranked Utes will compete in the NCAA regional hosted by No. 3 Alabama, along with No. 15 Denver, No. 23 Kent State, BYU and Iowa State.
The Utes were not only excited to land in a regional in which it should be easy to advance, but they see going up against rival BYU as an added bonus.
The Utes beat the Cougars 197.125-195.5 on March 1 and seeing the Cougars in their field brought out a huge cheer from the Utes who watched the selection show before practice.
“We’re excited,” sophomore Kassandra Lopez said. “We’re not saying Denver isn’t a good team and we are good, but we should have a very good chance of making it to NCAAs.”
The top two teams from each regional will advance to the NCAA Championships hosted by UCLA, April 19-21.
Utah is the only team in the country to advance to every NCAA Championship.
The Utes were worried they might end up in a tougher region after Saturday’s Pac-12 meet in which Utah had three below average routines on the balance beam, costing them a shot at the school’s first Pac-12 title and two spots in the national rankings.
But even with the continuing issues on the balance beam, Utah coach Greg Marsden likes his team’s chances at regionals.
“It’s like I’ve said all along, as long as we do our job we should be fine,” Marsden said. “When you are going up against certain teams and you give away an event like we did at Oregon State, sometimes you can get away with that. But you can’t count any falls at regionals and expect to advance. Teams have gotten too competitive.”
Tenth-ranked Oregon State, which used a season high to win the Pac-12, actually ended up with one of the toughest regions since its regional includes No. 4 Georgia and No. 16 Arkansas.
The Utes will start with a bye before opening on the uneven bars, which they viewed as a better rotation than the one they had on Saturday when they started on floor.
“It should be good for us and it should be anyone’s meet on any given night,” Mary Beth Lofgren said. “It’s a new place to go and that will make it fun for us too.”
Fun isn’t the way most teams view competing in Tuscaloosa, which has a reputation for being a difficult arena for opposing teams thanks to the Tide’s large crowd. Alabama averaged 13,422 fans at home this year and hasn’t lost at home since 2009, winning 34 in a row.
The last time Utah competed in Tuscaloosa was in 2002 when the Utes finished fourth in the NCAA Championships, which were won by the Tide.
The meet will have a little added spice to it because Marsden and Alabama coach Sarah Patterson aren’t exactly the best of friends, often expressing opposite viewpoints at coaches meetings over future formats, rules and so forth.
“Alabama is a great place for a meet because they have a great crowd and they run a good meet,” Marsden said. “My issues with Alabama have nothing to do with the way they host a meet or quality of teams. My frustrations are about the differences in philosophy Sarah and I have with where college gymnastics should be going. We have a hard time seeing eye to eye, but I have nothing against competing there.”
(Based on RQS)
1. Florida 197.84
2. Oklahoma 197.5
3. Alabama 197.415
4. Georgia 197.26
5. Michigan 197.235
6. UCLA 197.2
7. LSU 197.18
8. Nebraska 197.145
9. Utah 197.105
10. Oregon St. 196.9
11. Stanford 196.71
12. Auburn and Minnesota 196.615
14. Penn St. 196.5
15. Denver 196.47
16. Arkansas 196.435
17. Illinois 196.21
18. Arizona 196.09
19. Kentucky 196.06
20. Ohio St. 196.005
21. Boise St. 195.97
22. Washington 195.965
23. Kent St. 195.815
24. Maryland and Central Michigan 195.81
NCAA Regionals, April 6
Alabama • Alabama, Utah, Denver, Kent State, BYU, Iowa State
Florida • Florida, Minnesota, Auburn, Maryland, Bridgeport, Pittsburgh
Ohio State • UCLA, LSU, Arizona, Ohio State, Central Michigan, North Carolina State
Oklahoma • Oklahoma, Stanford, Penn State, Washington, Iowa, SUU
Oregon State • Georgia, Oregon State, Arkansas, Boise State, Arizona State, Cal
West Virginia • Michigan, Nebraska, Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina