Utah gymnastics: Damianova, other seniors credited with changing Utes' outlook
Too sick to travel with the team to Michigan a week ago Thursday, Utah gymnast Nansy Damianova managed to fly out the next morning and arrive just hours before the meet.
Still weak, she competed in three events and mustered enough energy to score two 9.9s and a 9.825.
Her effort to help the team typifies the demeanor of the gymnasts who make up Utah's senior class, which will be honored Saturday when the fifth-ranked Utes (9-3) wrap up the regular season against No. 6 Georgia (6-4).
After several years of being satisfied with mediocrity, Utah's senior class had enough and has changed the culture of the team for the better, coach Greg Marsden said.
"They've been an exceptionally good group," Marsden said. "They want to be here and they are hungry and don't mind working hard and they're always positive and upbeat."
The four Damianova, Lia Del Priore, Hailee Hansen and Mary Beth Lofgren have all contributed in their own way.
Hansen, who competes only on the uneven bars, is the vocal leader who brought the other seniors together and demanded they get tougher this year.
Del Priore is one of Utah's most consistent competitors, having hit 58 of 58 routines in her career. Last season she earned a rare 10.0 on the floor.
Lofgren is the hometown girl who competes on everything but the uneven bars. A steady, calm contributor, Lofgren is one of Utah's best on the balance beam, where she sometimes serves as the anchor.
"She has basically grown up in the Huntsman Center," Marsden said of Lofgren. "Each one has their own personality trait they've brought to the team."
Damianova is penciled in to close out Saturday's meet on the floor, since she serves as the anchor.
It is a moment she is looking forward to with a little trepidation, knowing she and her teammates will be emotional.
"I still have a job to do, so I don't want to think about it too much or I'll cry," she said.
Perhaps more than anyone, Damianova is finishing her career with the most satisfaction. After struggling to find her place in the lineup and on the team, Damianova, who hails from Montreal, has been one of Utah's strongest competitors the last two seasons.
The Pac-12 runner-up on floor last year, Damianova has earned a career-high 9.95 twice on the event this season and has hit 26 of 27 routines overall. She is ranked No. 11 on the bars (9.9) and No. 12 on the floor (9.91).
"I feel like bars and floor have been stable," she said. "I've hit my handstands better and I've done a good job there, I just need to get vault to stick. That has been bugging me lately."
Damianova isn't sure what the future will hold for her when she is done with gymnastics, although the thought of competing on the trampoline is enticing to her.
"It is big in Canada, and I want to keep competing in something," she said. "I don't think I'll compete in gymnastics anymore. I'd like to do something else."
She is happy sticking with gymnastics for now and hopes she and her teammates can finish her final year strong.
"The team has been doing so well this year, it has made it more fun," she said. "Before I came here, I was a little scared ,but it was a good opportunity and it has been great. We just want to finish strong."
No. 6 Georgia at No. 5 Utah
P At the Huntsman Center
Start • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
Live scores • utahutes.com
Records • Utah 9-3, 6-1 Pac-12; Georgia 6-4, 4-2 SEC
Series history • Georgia leads 25-22-1
Last meeting • Georgia 197.65, Utah 196.975 (March 9, 2013)