Utah gymnastics: Improved depth creating fierce competition for spots
Tempe, Ariz. • The disappointment from being pulled from Utah's floor lineup against UCLA was clearly evident in the mannerisms of senior Lia Del Priore, who stood off to the side of her teammates with her arms crossed and eyes downcast while they warmed up for the event.
Priore, who had earned scores of 9.675 and 9.875 in Utah's earlier meets, was replaced with Kailah Delaney, who posted a 9.7 in her first floor routine of the year.
Since that disappointment, Priore has worked hard in the last week to earn her spot back in the lineup. However, she may not know if she was successful in doing so until the warm-ups begin Saturday when the Utes compete at No. 19 Arizona State.
Priore isn't the only gymnast uncertain about her status in the lineups; with the Utes boasting more talent than they've had in several years, few gymnasts have locks on spots in the lineup.
While feelings might get hurt, such competition is a good thing, the Utes say.
Competing for roles through the week makes the gymnasts better overall and stronger mentally. After battling one another during the week, they are ready to face teams such as the Sun Devils.
"It's great for sure because it shows how deep we are," Priore said. "Yeah, it stinks that I was the one that got pulled and had to be the alternate, but it does show how good we are. There are a lot of teams that would love to have our B team."
The Utes are deepest on vault and floor, where as many as eight or 10 gymnasts are vying for spots. The ones in the lineups aren't making it easy for their teammates to take their spots. For example, Becky Tutka led off the Utes with a 9.875 on the vault against UCLA and Mary Beth Lofgren opened the floor rotation with a 9.8.
Such big scores set the tone for the rest of the lineup, particularly when the Utes are on the road and the home team is perceived to have a little home-crowd advantage.
"Where we were getting 9.75s or 9.8s last year, now we are getting 9.85s and 9.875s," co-coach Megan Marsden said. "Those are the kind of scores it's going to take for us to be in contention at the end of the year."
While jostling the lineup might make for some tense moments and hurt feelings, it's necessary, Marsden said.
"You do have to do some damage control," Marsden said. "But you need to know who your options are so if someone is sick or rolls an ankle, you know who can step in and compete but won't cost you a tenth of a point."
The battles are so competitive that even Georgia Dabritz, who would be in contention for an all-around title if she were in the balance beam lineup, has yet to compete on the apparatus. Dabritz understands the coaches' position.
"It just means I have to work harder," she said.
Eventually the Utes want to get to a point where they have a fairly consistent lineup by the end of the season when they want to focus on honing their routines.
Until then, they'll continue to battle, making road meets like tonight as much about themselves as about their opponents.
"The competition is hard, but it's a great problem to have," Lofgren said.
No. 4 Utah at No. 19 Arizona St.
O At Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, Ariz.
Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV • None
Live scores • http://www.utahutes.com
Records • Utah (5-0, 2-0); ASU (5-1, 2-0)
Series • Utah, 65-16-1
Last meeting • Utah won 197.075-193.425, March 23, 2013
About the Utes • Utah coach Greg Marsden is going for his 1,000 career win. He is 999-199-7 in his 39th season. â¦ The Utes are 13-8-1 in Tempe. â¦ Georgia Dabritz is the only gymnast in the nation ranked in the top five on three events. She is No. 1 on bars, tied for No. 2 on vault and tied for fifth on the floor.
About the Sun Devils • Coming off their season high of 196.0 against Cal last week. â¦ They don't use any gymnasts in the all-around. â¦ The last win over the Utes in Tempe was in 2000. â¦ Coached by John Spini, who is retiring at the end of the year.