Utah gymnastics: Utes like their underdog status at NCAAs
By Lya Wodraska
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Apr 18 2013 12:52PM
Los Angeles • With a program that has won 10 national titles and qualified for every NCAA Championship, Utah’s gymnastics team rarely is an underdog.
So excuse the Utes as they enjoy their status.
Los Angeles might be all about flash, hype and movie stars, but the Utes are just fine — make that thrilled — to be playing what many assume will be a minor role as the NCAA Championships begin Friday at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
As the 10th seed, the Utes must upset one of the favorites to be among the three teams from their session that advances to the Super Six.
While there is pressure, the Utes don’t have nearly the attention or expectation other teams in their session have.
Alabama, which is aiming for a third title; Oklahoma, which has been oh-so-close to winning the big one for several seasons now; and UCLA, the host team, all have more attention on them than the Utes do.
It is a good spot to be in, said Utah’s Mary Beth Lofgren.
"The pressure is off us," she said. "We’re going into it like the Florida meet and just focusing on what we can do and having fun."
The Florida meet was Utah’s best night of the season as the Utes upset the second-ranked Gators 198.125-197.875, breaking the 198 mark for the first time since the 2004 season.
The Utes acknowledge that part of their success stemmed from their belief they didn’t think they had much of a shot against the Gators — a mindset they say they have going into the NCAA semifinals.
The Utes not only are 0-3 against teams in their session, but also have never been seeded lower than No. 8 in the NCAAs.
Yet history is on the Utes’ side in such situations. Utah qualified for the Super Six as a No. 8 seed in 2011 and as a No. 7 seed in 2007, finishing fifth and second, respectively.
"Sometimes it is nice when the expectation of winning a national title goes away," Utah co-coach Megan Marsden said. "All the teams that come here wear the legacy of what other teams did and the national championships that were won, and it’s unfair to get compared, but they do."
Utah’s last NCAA title came in 1995. After a run of top-three placings from 2005-2008, the Utes haven’t finished higher than fifth since then.
Getting back to the upper echelon is a goal, but no one expects that to happen this year — not with two of the best gymnasts, Corrie Lothrop and Kailah Delaney, sidelined with injuries.
Instead, the Utes going in are content to give their best effort and see what happens. They hope they can pull off a similar result to that Florida meet and be the surprise team of the day.
As the Florida meet demonstrated, good things can come with lowered expectations for Utah’s young group.
"Everyone agrees it is a tough session and any of those teams are capable of moving forward," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "But I can see where we might not advance, too. All you can do is go in and do your best."