Nearly every successful college gymnastics team has at least two strong all-around competitors who not only make their team successful but themselves by pushing each other in practice and on the competitive floor.
For the Utah Utes, those gymnasts this year have been junior Stephanie McAllister and freshman Corrie Lothrop.
Now, with Utah's season down to the NCAA Championships, which start Friday in Cleveland, the two hope that competitive edge can take the Utes to a strong finish.
Utah, the fourth seed in Friday's afternoon session, will need every bit of its abilities if it is to advance to the Super Six.
The good news for the Utes is the two are accustomed to pushing hard, thanks to the competition they've given each other over the past five months.
Both freely admit that as much as they like each other, neither likes to be beaten, even by someone wearing the same team colors. They might not go head-to-head as teammates often do in other sports, but just knowing one of them is there working hard helps the other resist the temptation to back down or take an easy day, they said.
"It's part of the fun of having a team," McAllister said. "Both of us are competitive and we push each other inside the gym and at meets, but it has been a healthy competition."
So far, McAllister has won most of the battles, claiming 14 wins for the Utes and boasting a No. 8 ranking in the all-around with a 39.385 average at season's end.
Lothrop has just six wins, but she didn't have as many chances at individual wins during the second half of the season thanks to an ankle injury. However, that doesn't mean her presence hasn't had an effect on McAllister, and now that the ankle is better, Lothrop could be as much of a threat to the NCAA all-around title as McAllister.
"We know we're competition for each other," Lothrop said. "When you're working to get better and you see each other do something good, it gives you that much more incentive to try something yourself."
Neither gymnast is unaccustomed to individual competition; after all, individualism dominates gymnastics at the elite level, even in international team events.
However, being in a true team atmosphere such as the one that exists at the collegiate level has heightened the competition for both gymnasts.
"I've had it on a team before but never in a nice way," Lothrop said. "It's more like someone just wants to beat you, and that's all. This is definitely more fun. Instead of just, 'I need to beat you,' it's, 'I need to beat you because it makes me and the team better.' "
High expectations came with Lothrop, who was a 2008 Olympic alternate. McAllister's season has been more of a surprise.
A junior Olympic team member as an elite, McAllister became stronger throughout her sophomore season, scoring a career-best 39.375 in the all-around. That bit of success left her wanting more and she worked harder than ever in the offseason.
Now, she's happy with the hard work because her efforts are paying off for her and the team. Keeping pace and being ahead of an elite gymnast the quality of Lothrop has surprised even McAllister at times.
"I was mainly focused on what I needed to do after last year and what I needed to add to be better," McAllister said. "But it makes it more fun now, because we can push each other."
Both McAllister and Lothrop downplayed their roles with the team, pointing out that the team is full of strong individual specialists, too.
However, Utah coach Megan Marsden said having more than one strong all-arounder often gives the team an edge, and she has noticed such a benefit with McAllister and Lothrop.
Knowing the other is there has made practice a little more intense and more competitive than if just one gymnast excelled in the all-around.
"They need each other," she said. "When one gets a bit of acknowledgement it naturally makes the other work harder and that makes our team stronger."
The junior vs. the freshman
Utah junior Stephanie McAllister and freshman Corrie Lothrop have emerged as Utah's top all-around gymnasts. How the two stack up:
All-around • 39.385
Vault • 9.845
Uneven bars • 9.91
Balance beam • 9.815
Floor • 9.87
All-around • 39.065
Vault • 9.84
Uneven bars • 9.645
Balance beam • 9.825
Floor • 9.78
NCAA gymnastics championships
P Hosted by Kent State in Cleveland
Friday • Team preliminaries, 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. MDT
Saturday • Team finals, 2 p.m. MDT
Sunday • Individual finals,11 a.m. MDT