Utah junior Becky Tutka might be one of Utah’s most entertaining gymnasts when it comes to playing to the crowd and having fun on the floor, but if the Pac-12 Championships are involved, she means nothing but serious business.
“I have no doubt we can win this,” she said. “Especially after last weekend, this team is peaking at the right time. I know we can win.”
That is a big statement coming from a gymnast whose team has fallen short in postseason competitions recently. But it also reflects the attitude change that has served this year’s team so well.
While there have been troubles on the balance beam, the Utes haven’t backed down or given up in difficult situations like they did in the past. They hope a season in which they faced the country’s best teams and were tested both mentally and physically will pay off in bringing home their school’s first Pac-12 title.
The fifth-ranked Utes get their shot at doing so when they compete at 2:15 p.m. Saturday against No. 7 UCLA, No. 10 Stanford and No. 11 Oregon State. The evening session consists of host No. 19 Cal, No. 21 Arizona, No. 22 Arizona State and Washington.
The winner should come out of Utah’s session given the strength of the teams in that group, although coach Greg Marsden noted nothing could be taken for granted.
“It’s a good field,” he said. “Cal has done a heck of a job in a short amount of time and ASU has gotten better and we know what Stanford and UCLA are capable of when they are at their best, too. Everything has come down to the last routines the last few years and that should be the case this weekend too.”
The Utes finished second to UCLA in 2012 and slipped to a disappointing third place last season behind Oregon State and the Bruins after trouble on the balance beam.
This year the Utes feel things can be different because they’ve increased their talent level and mental game as well.
The Utes were in a battle against Georgia in the season finale, but had their best showing in many seasons on the balance beam, scoring 49.5.
“We didn’t make any drastic changes on beam, just fine-tuned the way we thought about it,” junior Tory Wilson said. “It has been a process all year, but we finally got to the point individually where we all felt good about our mental strategies going into beam.”
When Utah joined the Pac-12, the expectation was the gymnastics team would be the first to win a league title based on its national success.
Those expectations put more pressure on the Utes than they realized, Wilson acknowledged.
“There have been interesting circumstances the last two years,” she said. “Last year we had injuries and were missing Corrie [Lothrop] and the first year we pushed it too much. We have to go in thinking this isn’t some huge special event, that it is just another meet and we have to hit our routines and just worry about that.”
If the Utes can do that, they might just be the team to break through the Pac-12.
It’s an accomplishment they want more than anything else, Georgia Dabritz said.
“It would be a special thing to do,” she said. “We’d love to show the school and the community how good of a team we are here and that we are capable of winning championships.”
Session 1 breakdown
Ranking, season high • 5/198.025
Top seed for second year in a row
Ranking, season high • 7/197.5
Recently beat Utah in Michigan
Ranking, season high • 10/197.275
Handed Utes their first loss of season
Ranking, season high • 11/197.1
Beavers won title at home last year
Session 2 breakdown
Ranking, season high • 19/196.725
Has never beaten the Utes, going 0-19
Ranking, season high • 21/196.925
Allison Flores is top all-around gymnast with a 39.425 high
Ranking, season high • 22/196.2
Will be motivated to compete well for coach John Spini, who is retiring after 34 seasons
Ranking, season high • 34/196.2
Finished fourth at 2013 Pac-12s
Pac-12 gymnastics championships
At Berkeley, Calif.
O When • Saturday
Session 1 • Utah, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon State, 2 p.m.
Session 2 • Cal, Arizona, ASU, Washington, 7:30 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
Live stats • www.CalBears.com