Utah gymnastics: No. 7 Utes fall to Georgia
By Lya Wodraska
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 09 2013 06:54PM
Athens, Ga. • Pyrotechnics from both chemical and human-derived sources were on display Saturday as old foes Utah and Georgia met in a classic clash of gymnastics powers.
Unfortunately for the seventh-ranked Utes, No. 8 Georgia was just a little more explosive, taking a 197.65-196.975 win in front of 9,941 in Stegeman Coliseum.
The loss snaps Utah’s three-meet win streak in the series, which has set the standard for nonconference rivalries.
Athens has been one of the most difficult places for the Utes to compete, thanks to Georgia’s loud, rowdy fan base.
Saturday was no different. A pre-meet fireworks show, a jammed student section doing the "Harlem Shake," and a fired-up home team bent on winning its last home meet all combined for an intimidating night for the Utes.
The Utes (9-2-1) have had trouble in similar atmospheres in the past, but were unfazed on Saturday. That was the good news.
The bad news was that Utah still couldn’t muster the high scores it needed to upend Georgia (7-6-1).
So what to read into the meet for the future?
Utah, which wraps up its regular season against Florida on Saturday, is good enough to contend with some of the best teams in the country. However, the Utes know they still have some work to do if they want to be there at the end during the NCAA Championships.
Specifically, the Utes learned they aren’t good enough for them to just hit their events — they have to be near-perfect to have a chance to win.
"What surprised me is the tenths we gave away on floor," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "We did well on the events we’ve been struggling on. I thought we took a step forward there, but on floor we gave up a lot of tenths with missed landings and things like that. We have to clean that up."
Rather than be disappointed in the loss, the Utes were actually buoyed by their performance, particularly from a mental standpoint.
Competing toe to toe with Georgia on its home floor was one thing, but showing the mental fortitude to block out the crowd and late-meet pressure showed a new strength for the Utes.
A year ago in a similar situation, Georgia went to Florida and crumbled under the pressure on the uneven bars.
There was no such weakness Saturday, with Utah doing well enough on the event to keep the pressure on Georgia from the start.
"We didn’t have any falls, and that was big for us," sophomore Georgia Dabritz said. "We knew it was going to be tough here, and I thought we handled that well. We didn’t let it bother us, and that was huge."
Following the pyrotechnic show, Georgia opened the meet in its own blazing fashion as it scored its second-best mark of the season on the vault, notching a 49.525. The Gym Dogs were ranked only sixth on the event with a regional qualifying score of 49.335.
Utah put together one of its best uneven bars efforts and scored a 49.225 with both Nansy Damianova and Georgia Dabritz scoring 9.9s.
The Utes kept things close but could never overtake the Gym Dogs.
The key moment came in the third rotation, when Georgia’s Kati Breazeal fell off the balance beam as the second to go. But rather than choke under pressure, Georgia delivered four straight 9.875s. Utah, meanwhile, had mixed efforts on the floor — not suffering any falls but not getting enough high marks to overtake the Dogs, either.
The effort left Utah trailing Georgia 148.125-147.8 going into the final rotation, where it was all but impossible to stage a comeback.
The Utes had to be satisfied with a solid balance beam rotation. Mary Beth Lofgren won the event with a 9.9.
"I will take it," Marsden said. "We didn’t do as good a job on our best events, but it felt like we took another step forward in a lot of ways, so I was satisfied."