Berkeley, Calif. • When it comes to competition in the Pac-12, more is better in the minds of the Utes.
The emergence of Cal as a legitimate player among the Pac-12 teams can only help the league, said Utah co-coach Megan Marsden before her team faced the Bears here in Berkeley.
While Cal might not be a contender for the league title just yet, it seems to be an improving program under second-year coach Justin Howell. The Bears qualified for NCAA regionals in 2013 for the first time since 2007.
Having the Bears as a rising program makes the Pac-12 healthier overall, Marsden said.
“Now that we are in the Pac-12, we see things with a little more big picture and we want our family, the conference, to be the most powerful in the country,” she said. “We’re going up against the SEC for that, and they’ve got two or three powerhouses, but we are growing.”
The SEC has a hold of five of the top 10 spots, while No. 4 Utah and No. 6 UCLA represent the Pac-12. Other ranked Pac-12 teams are No. 12 Stanford, No. 14 Oregon State and No. 19 Arizona.
The last time the Utes competed in a conference was in the WAC from 1991-93, with the Utes winning all three titles.
Being back in a conference has been even better than they expected, Marsden said.
“We were talking on the bus that it has been fun because unless you are competing directly against them, you are rooting for your conference,” she said. “Before we would go to nationals and just kind of side with the western schools like Oregon State, and UCLA. Now it makes the meets a little more fun.”
That Cal could grow into stiff competition for the Utes and other teams is an inviting thought, Marsden said.
“They just need to get to the point where they can compete with the big boys,” Marsden said. “That will help them get to the next level.”
Been here, going to be back
The Utes felt lucky to compete at Cal this year since the Bears are hosting the Pac-12 championships in March. The last time the Utes were at Cal before Saturday’s meet was for the 2007 regionals, so Saturday’s meet gave the team at least a chance to become familiar with their surroundings.
“It helps a lot,” Greg Marsden said. “It’s good to be here, get a handle on the surroundings and see how the equipment is different.”
The biggest difference between the Utes’ setup and the Bears is they use an older system of water jugs to hold down the uneven bars rather than cables. The setup makes the bars slower, forcing the gymnasts to adjust their timing.
Cal has never finished higher than fifth in the Pac-10 or Pac-12. … Utah hosts UCLA on Saturday, Jan. 25.