Utah gymnastics: Utes have talent but lack mental strength
Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden reminds his team during meets when something goes wrong to not panic and focus on the next routine to avoid a chain reaction of mistakes.
He is taking the same tactic with the team in the coming offseason.
After the Utes missed the Super Six for the first time since 1999 and with teams such as Oklahoma, LSU and others on the rise, no one could blame Utah fans for a little panic, but Marsden believes the Utes are heading in the right direction, even if the results of the NCAA Championships don't indicate such.
The good news is the Utes weren't so far out of the running for a slot in the finals that they seem far away from being a contender. The bad news is the balance beam dashed their hopes, just as it did in the Pac-12 Championships, when Utah had three falls that dropped them to fifth in their session.
The Utes might have some skills physically, but Marsden acknowledged there is a lack of mental tenacity.
"We are making progress but we have to get strong on the mental side of things," he said. "We are capable and it's not like we don't have the talent, and we trained well but we are missing that one thing."
The Utes knew 2013 would be a key foundational year because of their youth and inexperience. Losing All-American Corrie Lothrop to an Achilles tendon tear in the fourth meet of the season made them even younger.
Still, they had moments of brilliance, such as their upset of Florida in the final meet of the season.
However, there were too many times when the Utes faltered on the balance beam. Their attitude of emphasizing fun and having no expectations came back to haunt them in the critical moments as they tightened up under pressure.
Learning to work through those situations will be the team's offseason task, Marsden said.
The Utes already employ the use of a sports psychologist, but more head games will be the theme this summer if Marsden has his way.
"We need to learn to go to each event and just do your job in the same way, every time, no matter what is going on around you or what happened before," he said. "If you do that enough, you'll be in a better place."
Georgia Dabritz, for one, feels better about her own beam abilities although she was inconsistent on the apparatus. Last year, the Utes didn't even use her in the lineup because she was so inconsistent. Her progress, while perhaps not fast enough for some fans, is indicative of the team's evolution, she said.
"We are getting better," she said. "We all can't wait to get back into the gym and get to work for next year."
The good news about the youth this season is it should serve the Utes well next year.
Utah doesn't lose any gymnasts and adds one signee, Baely Rowe, a two-time Junior Olympic champion out of Federal Way, Wash.
Lothrop is expected back for her senior year as well. The one question mark is whether sophomore Kailah Delaney can compete again.
She was sidelined all year after knee surgery and it remains to be seen whether she can return to competition.
As for the rest of the team, Marsden plans to stress the need to work on their beam efforts during the summer voluntary workouts. He can't be there to oversee them or plan workouts, but rest assured, working on the beam was a strong suggestion to the team.
"It's not as much fun as some of the other events," he said. "But we have to improve our technique and execution. Hopefully that is something they will take upon themselves."
2013 Utah gymnastics season in review
The good • Utah's gymnasts had enough talent to flirt with some notable wins. The Utes upset eventual NCAA champion Florida, led the Pac-12 Championships going into the final rotation and were in position to advance to the Super Six at nationals.
The bad • What the Utes had physically they lacked mentally. Two falls off the beam in the NCAAs plus struggles on the apparatus at the Pac-12 meet cost Utah an opportunity for some big results.
The ugly • Seeing Corrie Lothrop suffer a season-ending Achilles injury in the fourth meet of the year was an emotional and physical loss for the team. One can't help but think how different the season might have turned out if the Utes had Lothrop and her consistent gymnastics available in the postseason.