Even through the fresh sting of a disappointing and shocking loss, Utah’s gymnastics team seemed determined to focus on the positives of their 2014 campaign.
The Utes, who finished the regular season ranked fifth, had one of their better seasons in recent memory, claiming the school’s first Pac-12 title, winning another region title and boasting a school record nine All-Americans.
“We have a lot of good memories,” junior Georgia Dabritz said. “We can’t let one outcome affect how we feel about the whole season.”
But in a way it does. The Utes were so determined to redeem themselves from their ninth-place finish in 2013 that they put themselves through a complete mental overhaul for 2014.
With team leader Hailee Hansen guiding the way, the Utes determined they needed to put more emphasis on winning, not just performing well.
The attitude change worked, all the way up until one of the most important meets of the night when strengths suddenly became weaknesses.
True, the Utes had some bobbles on the balance beam during the NCAA preliminaries, but what really did the Utes in were below average performances on the floor and vault.
The power events, Utah’s bread and butter, fizzled while Nebraska sizzled on balance beam, leaving Utah out of Saturday’s Super Six competition and in seventh place overall.
To think a team so loaded in talent and so strong all year would miss the Super Six was confusing and shocking for the Utes.
“We had re-invested our commitment this year and we were seeing the results of that,” Utah coach Greg Marsden said. “To win the Pac-12 and to win the regional, we thought we were right on track of getting back to the tradition of Utah gymnastics. It’s disheartening.”
Junior Tory Wilson said the Utes simply didn’t have it on Friday night.
“We tried,” she said.
But will the Utes ever have ‘it’ again?
To that end, the Utes are much more positive than they were last year, when they were eliminated in the preliminaries with yet another disastrous performance on the balance beam.
The Utes believe they are much stronger mentally on the beam now, indicated by their performances on the event in crucial late regular season and post-season performances.
They are more of a team as well, redefining their culture and attitude through more team bonding and chemistry-unifying efforts.
Such a change shows promise for the future.
“We know we are a good team,” Dabritz said. “We have proved that this year and we had a lot of good moments. One meet won’t define us.”
The Utes also acknowledge that parity in gymnastics is making it more challenging for all teams to reach the Super Six. The days of the ‘old guard,’ in collegiate gymnastics dominating are clearly over.
Georgia, which won five titles from 2005-2009, missed the Super Six three years in a row, UCLA, despite being loaded with Olympic talent, also was eliminated in the preliminaries and 11th-ranked Oregon State didn’t even make the field.
Knowing the path to the Super Six is difficult isn’t an excuse the Utes are interested in using, at least not this year.
“We had a very mature, senior-oriented team,” Marsden said. “We thought we had everything we needed to make a run at it.”
Physically, the Utes must replace eight of their 24 routines performed at the NCAAs with Hansen, Nansy Damianova, Mary Beth Lofgren and Lia Del Priore all graduating.
But the Utes could be even stronger next year.
Corrie Lothrop, who was given an extra year after tearing her Achilles tendon early in 2013, has recovered well and is projected to compete in the all-around next season.
The Utes will also get Kassandra Lopez back after she tore her Achilles tendon this year, when she was expected to be one of Utah’s top all-arounders.
The Utes will also bring in four signees, Samantha Partyka, Maddy Stover, Kari Lee and Tiffani Lewis. All four were junior Olympic qualifiers.
“I’m always a little leery about bragging too much about freshmen,” Marsden said. “You like to see them make that transition first, but hopefully they will be able to help us out.”
Utes’ season in review
Biggest win • The Utes scored a 49.275 on the balance beam to win their first Pac-12 title.
Biggest loss • Hops on vault landings left the Utes with a 49.3, two-tenths below their average, to leave the Utes short of the Super Six.
Key losses • Nansy Damianova had an outstanding year, particularly on floor, where she won the Pac-12 title. Mary Beth Lofgren was one of Utah’s best on the balance beam.
2014 • 7th
2013 • 9th
2012 • 5th
2011 • 5th
2010 • 6th
Utes look ahead
Key returnees • Corrie Lothrop competed only on the beam and uneven bars this year while recovering from her torn Achilles, but it is anticipated she will be a candidate for the vault and floor lineup next season.
Key signee • Samantha Partyka is a three-time junior Olympic national champ known for routines with a high level of difficulty.