The ability of Utah's gymnastics team to block out potential distractions and keep its focus on the gymnastics itself has played a big part in the Utes' success this season. But now comes the Utes' biggest challenge yet, with a combination of senior night and a visit from top-ranked Florida making Friday's meet the biggest of the year.
The fifth-ranked Utes are coming off a 196.55-193.15 win at Utah State in which neither the absence of Corrie Lothrop nor the last-minute scratching of Victoria Shanley due to back spasms threw the Utes off their game.
Utah hopes it can keep that focus this week, even if a visit from Florida is like waving a red flag in front of a mad bull. Whoever wins Friday could have a psychological advantage if the teams find themselves battling for the NCAA title in April. The Utes lost to the Gators in Gainesville 197.55-196.5 a year ago and finished sixth at the NCAA Championships behind the Gators.
"We didn't get caught up in who the opponent is against UCLA or Georgia, and not many picked us to win those meets," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "We know we can't focus on the opponent, and not doing so has worked well for us this year, so hopefully we won't move away from that. We know it's Florida and we know it's the last home meet for our seniors, but hopefully we can keep the focus on where it needs to be."
Some of the luster might be gone from the meet since the Gators are no longer undefeated. Florida was upset Friday by Arkansas 196.7-196.1 when the Gators uncharacteristically had trouble staying on the equipment.
Florida had two falls on beam, its last event, to score just 48.55 on the event.
However, senior Gael Mackie said the Utes weren't concerned with Florida's struggles.
"We hear about those things, but we aren't changing our approach no matter if we are competing against Utah State or Florida," she said.
In the rankings
The Utes moved back into the rankings after a week's absence since Friday's win at Utah State gives them enough road meets for a regional qualifying score. The most notable move came from Alabama, which jumped from No. 5 to No. 3.
Utah's Stephanie McAllister is ranked No. 4 in the all-around (39.355) and third on the uneven bars (9.89). Mackie is tied for fifth on the uneven bars (9.885).
Just another night
Friday is senior night for Kyndal Robarts, Mackie and Jacquelyn Johnson. Robarts has been sidelined since she injured her knee at Nebraska, but both Johnson and Mackie are competing more, thanks to a combination of their own improvement and injuries to other gymnasts. Both competed in the all-around at Utah State, where Johnson earned a 39.225 in her first all-around experience and Mackie scored a 39.025 in her first all-around effort since 2009. Marsden said he hasn't determined if they will compete in the all-around against the Gators. His decision won't be swayed by the fact that it is their last meet in the Huntsman Center, he said.
"I typically try to downplay senior night as much as possible," he said. "Certainly we want to honor them and that kind of thing, but I encourage the seniors to always keep it in perspective, too. It's not the end of the season or their careers, so hopefully they will treat it like any other night."
The availability of Lothrop and Shanley for Friday's meet is unknown, with Lothrop continuing to be hindered by a sore ankle and Shanley hampered by back spasms. Robarts continues to rehab her knee and is performing some moves, but Utah's coaches remain doubtful she can return before the season ends.
Twitter: @lyawodraska, @sltributes
Team Season avg. Pvs. rank
1. Florida 197.055 1
2. Stanford 196.71 2
3. Alabama 196.59 5
4. Oklahoma 196.345 3
5. Utah 196.335 NR
6. Georgia 196.2 4
7. Oregon State 196.19 6
8. UCLA 196.17 9
9. Michigan 195.955 8
10. Nebraska 195.73 7
25. BYU 194.74 26
33. SUU 194.05 31