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Utah gymnastics: Utes confident as they face regional field

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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kassandra Lopez competes on the Beam for the Ute's, in gymnastics action against The University of California, at the Huntsman Center, Saturday, February 9, 2013.

By Lya Wodraska

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Apr 05 2013 10:39AM
Updated Jul 7, 2013 11:31PM

Tuscaloosa, Ala. • Just as they balance between success and dramatic failure as they work the balance beam, Utah’s gymnasts are treading the line between being confident and too complacent as they head into Saturday’s NCAA Regional Championship hosted by Alabama.

The ninth-ranked Utes, who are the only team in the country to advance to every NCAA Championship, will be hard-pressed to beat third-ranked and two-time defending national champion Alabama for the regional title.

However, barring some catastrophic failure, the Utes should be good enough to beat the rest of the field and advance to the NCAA Championships, hosted by UCLA, April 19-21.

But what seems like an ideal situation is a bit nerve-wracking for Utah coach Greg Marsden, whose team has flipped between competing like a veteran group and one like the youngsters they are.

"If we can hit four events, we are good enough to move forward," Marsden said. "If we struggle somewhere, somebody else can get us. We have to go and compete."

The Utes found out at the Pac-12 Championships how fast they can fall in the standings when a disappointing rotation on the balance beam dropped them from first to third.

That was a lesson well learned, Kassandra Lopez said.

"We know we can’t underestimate any teams," she said. "We’ve had an up and down season but I see us in practice and I know we can be amazing and we have trained enough to do well. But anybody can be on their game any given night so we can’t overlook anyone."

One team that of course would love to get the better of the Utes is BYU. The Cougars lost to Utah 197.125-195.5 on March 1. However, the odds are stacked against the Cougars as they haven’t scored above 195.875 this year and haven’t qualified for nationals since 2005 when they finished 11th.

"They are our big rival so it should make it fun," sophomore Georgia Dabritz said. "We always want to do well against them."

Their main concern though is Alabama, a team that is a rivalry between the coaches more so than the teams. Utah hasn’t competed in Tuscaloosa since finishing fourth in the 2002 NCAAs won by the Tide, but Marsden and Alabama coach Sarah Patterson often find themselves butting heads during coaches meetings.

The personal history will add a little spice to an arena that doesn’t really need any added intensity as Coleman Coliseum is legendary for being one of the hardest atmospheres in which to compete.

The Tide haven’t lost at home since 2009, winning 34 in a row. Alabama consistently draws nearly as many fans as Utah does and averaged 13,422 this year.

Utah didn’t do so well the last time it competed in a similar atmosphere, losing at Georgia 197.65-196.975, but freshman Breanna Hughes said the Utes are prepared.

"We are more than ready for it," she said. "The coaches have tried to prepare us, but we have competed in front of our crowds that are big. We just need to go out and focus on hitting our stuff and we will be OK."

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