Los Angeles • With a program that has won 10 national titles and qualified for every NCAA Championship, Utah’s gymnastics team rarely is an underdog.
So excuse the Utes as they enjoy their status.
Los Angeles might be all about flash, hype and movie stars, but the Utes are just fine — make that thrilled — to be playing what many assume will be a minor role as the NCAA Championships begin Friday at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
As the 10th seed, the Utes must upset one of the favorites to be among the three teams from their session that advances to the Super Six.
While there is pressure, the Utes don’t have nearly the attention or expectation other teams in their session have.
Alabama, which is aiming for a third title; Oklahoma, which has been oh-so-close to winning the big one for several seasons now; and UCLA, the host team, all have more attention on them than the Utes do.
It is a good spot to be in, said Utah’s Mary Beth Lofgren.
“The pressure is off us,” she said. “We’re going into it like the Florida meet and just focusing on what we can do and having fun.”
The Florida meet was Utah’s best night of the season as the Utes upset the second-ranked Gators 198.125-197.875, breaking the 198 mark for the first time since the 2004 season.
The Utes acknowledge that part of their success stemmed from their belief they didn’t think they had much of a shot against the Gators — a mindset they say they have going into the NCAA semifinals.
The Utes not only are 0-3 against teams in their session, but also have never been seeded lower than No. 8 in the NCAAs.
Yet history is on the Utes’ side in such situations. Utah qualified for the Super Six as a No. 8 seed in 2011 and as a No. 7 seed in 2007, finishing fifth and second, respectively.
“Sometimes it is nice when the expectation of winning a national title goes away,” Utah co-coach Megan Marsden said. “All the teams that come here wear the legacy of what other teams did and the national championships that were won, and it’s unfair to get compared, but they do.”
Utah’s last NCAA title came in 1995. After a run of top-three placings from 2005-2008, the Utes haven’t finished higher than fifth since then.
Getting back to the upper echelon is a goal, but no one expects that to happen this year — not with two of the best gymnasts, Corrie Lothrop and Kailah Delaney, sidelined with injuries.
Instead, the Utes going in are content to give their best effort and see what happens. They hope they can pull off a similar result to that Florida meet and be the surprise team of the day.
As the Florida meet demonstrated, good things can come with lowered expectations for Utah’s young group.
“Everyone agrees it is a tough session and any of those teams are capable of moving forward,” Utah coach Greg Marsden said. “But I can see where we might not advance, too. All you can do is go in and do your best.”
P Friday’s semifinals
1 p.m. session • Florida, Georgia, LSU, Minnesota, Stanford, Illinois
7 p.m. session • Oklahoma, Alabama, UCLA, Michigan, Utah, Arkansas
Live streaming • www.ncaa.com
Live scoring • www.uclabruins.com
Evening session lineups
Final ranking and regional qualifying score • 2; 197.57
NCAA seed and national qualifying score • 2; 394.945
Season high • 198.375
Of note • Highest placing was second in 2010
Final ranking and regional qualifying score • 3; 197.415
NCAA seed and national qualifying score • 6; 394.815
Season high • 198.375
Of note • Has won the past two NCAA titles
Final ranking and regional qualifying score • 6; 197.2
NCAA seed and national qualifying score • 3; 394.815
Season high • 197.425
Of note • Won 2010 title and was second in 2011 and third in 2012
Final ranking and regional qualifying score • 5; 197.235
NCAA seed and national qualifying score • 7; 394.05
Season high • 197.55
Of note • Failed to qualify for NCAAs in 2012
Final ranking and regional qualifying score • 9; 197.105
NCAA seed and national qualifying score • 10; 393.505
Season high • 198.125
Of note • Has qualified for every Super Six since 1999
Final ranking and regional qualifying score • 16; 196.435
NCAA seed and national qualifying score • 11; 393.385
Season high • 197.10
Of note • Highest finish was fifth in 2009