Berkeley • Friday night marked the 39th anniversary of Utah’s first gymnastics win. The fourth-ranked Utes celebrated big, taking down Cal in their Pac-12 opener 196.875-196.275.
Utah coach Greg Marsden, who is just two wins away from his 1,000 victory, didn’t know the significance of the date until just moments before the meet began.
The Utes, who are 998-199-7 under Marsden, have come a long ways since they marked the beginning of the program with a 97.75 win over Cal-State (89.7) and BYU (81.05) in 1976.
They’ve won 10 national titles, produced 332 All-Americans, 24 NCAA individual champions and 27 region titles since then.
Last year’s disappointing ninth-place finish wasn’t on a par with that kind of success and this year’s team is determined to get the Utes back at the top where they belong.
Friday’s meet showed the Utes might just have the skills to back up their talk.
Unlike the 2013 team, which struggled on the road, the Utes came out blazing on Friday.
Even though Cal went “old school,” and used water jugs to hold down the uneven bars, which can affect the gymnasts’ timing, the Utes were unfazed and posted a 49.325, led by 9.9s from Georgia Dabritz and Corrie Lothrop.
It was a big routine for Lothrop in particular since she fell on the event in the season opener. She knew she nailed the routine on Friday, breaking into a huge smile as she stuck the dismount.
The smiles were all around as the uneven bars launched Utah into their big night.
“We are definitely in a much better place mentally than we were last year this time of year,” said Tory Wilson, who won the all-around with a 39.45. “Last year we started out shaky on the bars at times and this time we didn’t.”
Dabritz said the meet was a big confidence builder going into a crucial week in which the Utes host rival UCLA next week.
“Winning on the road wasn’t a strong suit for us last year,” she said. “But we are going to make it our strong suit this year.”
Utah’s big uneven bars effort put Cal on the defense early, with the Bears opening with a 49.025 on vault.
Utah, which found itself in an unexpectedly close meet with Boise State last week, had no such issues with the Bears as a 49.5 on the vault virtually locked down the win for the Utes.
Wilson led the Utes with a 9.975 while Kailah Delaney posted a 9.95.
All Cal could manage was a 48.925 on the uneven bars.
With the Utes up 98.825-98.0 after two rotations, Marsden could relax and watch the floor rotation from a chair. Count it as one of the more relaxing but satisfying wins he has had in recent years, maybe perhaps since he began the program as a grad student to satisfy Title IX requirements for the university.
“It was a great night with a lot of good things,” Marsden said. “We are a more mature group than we were last year and they just handle things better.”
The only issues for the Utes came on the balance beam where freshman Baely Rowe and Mary Beth Lofgren fell.
While the Utes were hoping to finish out the meet hitting all their routines, the mistakes didn’t put the victory in jeopardy for the Utes thanks to their early domination.
“It’s tough to end on beam and we just have to get better at it,” Marsden said. “We have to approach it like the other events, stay relaxed and not try too hard, but overall it was a good night.”
That the Utes were able to win so convincingly even with a fall, when Cal didn’t have to count one, was comforting too.
“They are a good team,” Marsden said. “They aren’t going to beat themselves.”
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Vault • Tory Wilson (Utah) 9.975
Uneven bars • Corrie Lothrop (Utah) 9.9
Balance beam • Jessica Howe (Cal) 9.875
Floor • Georgia Dabritz (Utah) 9.950
All-around • Tory Wilson (Utah) 39.450