Utah junior Stephanie McAllister remembers the balance beam being a dreaded event last year, one that ultimately led to the Utes' downfall at the NCAA Championships.
This season, that same, 4-inch wide apparatus that has crushed so many hopes has turned into the Utes' sanctuary, a place where they know they can dominate rather than be dominated.
The No. 3 Utes (5-1), who host No. 8 Michigan (10-2) Friday, are ranked fourth nationally on the event and average 49.038, up from last year's average of just 48.425.
Statistically that is a huge gap in the slim margin world of gymnastics. Mentally, it's a world away from the 2010 Utes.
"Last year we let it get in our head and it was a mind game for us; our whole team struggled on beam," McAllister said. "This year, we're doing a good job of practicing like we compete and compete like we practice. If you use that same setting, it's not as big of a deal."
Carrying over success from practice to competition was a huge deal for the Utes last year, highlighted by falls at the NCAA Championships which left the team with a 48.425 and dropped them from a shot at winning the national title to sixth-place, a low mark the Utes hadn't settled for since the 2004 season.
This year the Utes have used beam to overcome teams such as UCLA, Georgia and Nebraska. Most encouraging for the Utes is their ability to compete equally as well whether they are home or on the road.
"Coaches say that beam can make or break a team," McAllister said. "The fact that we can stay together on beam is a confidence booster. To know that people in front and behind you are going to hit helps too. You can relax more."
Most surprisingly is that the Utes have been consistent on the event despite their freshman-laden roster. Normally they are the ones who feel the nerves but that hasn't been the case.
Freshman Corrie Lothrop credited coach Megan Marsden's tactics for their success.
"We're practicing a lot, but she is making sure we are calm and staying focused," Lothrop said. "Our mental approach to beam is a big thing and Megan has stressed that in all of us."
Marsden said she didn't change anything in her coaching philosophy of the event, believing the difference is in the gymnasts' personalities and attitudes toward beam.
"We tried to work on it last year in a variety of ways and we just couldn't seem to get past it," she said. "You have to have a success oriented strategy on beam and just get up there and do the routine as opposed to approaching it from a not to fail view. It's not an easy task, but this group really seems to get it."
Event Rank Avg
Vault No. 4 49.221
Bars No. 4 49.108
Beam No. 4 49.038
Floor No. 8 48.933
Top beam teams
No. 1 Florida 49.121
No. 2 Stanford 49.117
No. 3 Georgia 49.082
No. 4 Utah 49.038
No. 5 Oklahoma 49.014
No. 8 Michigan at No. 3 Utah
P At the Huntsman Center
Meet • Friday, 7 p.m.
Records • Utah 5-1; Michigan 10-2
Series history • Utah leads 21-11
Last meeting • Michigan, 195.725-195.1
About the meet • The Utes are coming off a 196.975-195.475 win over Washington. â¦ Friday is "Short People Appreciation Night," so any fan who is 5-foot or shorter will receive a free, upper bowl general admission ticket. â¦ Utah has not counted a fall this season and has hit 137 of 144 routines. â¦ Michigan's season-high is 196.8. â¦ Michigan's Kylee Botterman is the nation's second-ranked all-arounder with a 39.504 average.