Utah gymnastics notes: NCAAs boast toughest field yet
Los Angeles • As an outspoken coach willing to cross the lines of congeniality to do what he thinks is best for his sport, Utah's Greg Marsden often finds himself at odds with many of his fellow gymnastics coaches.
But when it comes to rating the field, he and his fellow coaches are in agreement: The 2013 NCAA Championships is the toughest lineup ever.
Top-ranked Florida has the highest national qualifying score of 396.24, but six teams have an NQS in the 394 range and four others are in the 393 range.
Only Illinois, with an NQS of 392.235 in its third appearance at the NCAAs, seems like a long shot.
It once was a given for the national powers to make the Super Six. Not anymore, said UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field.
"We know it's going to be a bloodbath to get to the Super Six," she said.
It's not often that the term "bloodbath" is used to describe a sport that hinges upon athletic grace, but the competition is expected to be difficult after some surprising results during the season.
For instance, Utah upset Florida, Michigan beat UCLA at home, Oregon State and Nebraska won their league titles but didn't even qualify and Arkansas and Illinois scored upsets to join the field.
Of all the teams, UCLA might have the most pressure to make the Super Six, since it is hosting.
The Bruins have lost several gymnasts to injuries with Peng-Peng Lee (knee), Samantha Peszek (Achilles), Ellette Craddock (finger tendon) and Mattie Larson (knee) all out for sure. Standout Vanessa Zamarripa injured her ankle on a beam dismount at regionals but is expected to compete.
Overcoming the injuries has made the team stronger in many ways, Kondos Field said.
"We had walk-ons who were competing at 9.75 and we had to get them to the 9.9 range somehow," she said. "We found a way, and we had a ball figuring out how to do that and get it done. I'm having the time of my life, coaching the little team that could. We're like the Bad News Bears, and it has been a ball."
As the two-time defending champion, Alabama can't be overlooked, but SEC foe Florida appears to be the biggest threat out of the south.
The Gators have been favored before but choked under pressure, including the 2010 NCAAs, when they hosted and tumbled to sixth.
Florida coach Rhonda Faehn said the Gators eliminated some of their riskier skills, but promises the Gators will still be aggressive.
"We wanted to make a balance with the performance factor and the execution," she said. "We're hoping we found that balance that allows them to feel comfortable and confident out there."
Utah opened the season at UCLA with a 197.425-195.3 loss. Having competed in the arena gives the Utes a little comfort, but the arena will be much different since the meet will be held on a podium, with all the events held on a platform that raises the arena floor higher than usual.
The setup makes for a bouncier floor, something the Utes welcome, given their high-powered routines.
"It's weird at first, but it doesn't take long to adjust," Mary Beth Lofgren said. "After the first pass, you get a feel for everything."
Tory Wilson took a tumble during a balance beam routine and split her shin open down to the bone. Doctors glued and stitched the wound together. Despite the painful injury, Wilson said it won't affect her.
"It comes with the sport," she said of the injury. "You just have to get over it mentally."
Corrie Lothrop, Utah's top all-arounder who tore her Achilles tendon in the fourth meet of the season, is doing her best to help the team anyway she can, but admits she still feels out of place on the sidelines.
"It's hard but I have gotten used to it," she said. "At regionals I got to hold up the numbers, it was like, 'Yeah, I have a job!' At the same time, I've seen how far they've come since the Pac-12s and it's exciting to see how the weekend might turn out."