The good part of being in the Pac-12 Conference is that Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden doesn’t have to worry as much about scheduling teams, because he knows he has conference opponents locked into his calendar.
The bad part of being in the Pac-12 is that, well, he now has conference opponents locked into his calendar.
Utah State at No. 5 UtahAt the Huntsman Center
Start » Friday, 7 p.m.
Live stream » www.utahutes.com
About the Aggies » The Aggies have suffered several injuries during preseason workouts and are having a hard time filling their lineups. … Of Utah State’s 17 event winners last year, only sophomore Paige Jones is a returner. She won the vault at Sacramento State with a career-best 9.825. … Coach Jeff Richards is entering his fourth year (8-55).
About the Utes » Utah’s season-opening score of 196.025 was the fourth-best in the country last week. … Stephanie McAllister posted a 39.325 to finish second in the all-around in the opener. … Freshman Kailah Delaney has mono but still is expected to vault. … The Utes are on a bye next week.
Perhaps more than any other sport at Utah, gymnastics enjoyed the freedom of independence before the Utes joined the Pac-12, because it allowed Marsden to schedule virtually any opponent he wanted.
But that freedom is going away as the Utes transition into the Pac-12. They have four conference meets this year, and will be locked into six Pac-12 meets — three home and three away — starting in 2013, meaning Marsden will have tough choices to make.
Do the Utes stay loyal to the state and continue to give in-state programs the kind of exposure Utah State will receive as the Utes’ opponent Friday in the Huntsman Center? Or does he play more to fans’ interest and schedule meets against top-10 teams such as Georgia and Michigan?
That is a question he has yet to answer himself.
As someone who considers promoting the sport almost as important as winning meets, Marsden said he feels a deep loyalty to local teams, mindful that their visits to the Huntsman Center give them a tremendous amount of exposure.
But he also has a job to do, which is to give his team the kind of competition it needs to prepare for the postseason.
Currently, the Utes have BYU on future schedules, but not USU or Southern Utah.
"I would like to maintain the relationship we have with the in-state schools," Marsden said, "but I don’t want to lose the quality of competition [that] a Florida or Georgia gives us, because it helps us get ready for the postseason and our fans love seeing those teams."
Competing against the in-state schools falls short in that department. While Utah’s gymnasts maintain they don’t pay much attention to their opponents, the fact is going against a local team rarely makes the Utes feel they are in danger of losing a meet.
The Utes are 86-3 against Utah State, 18-0 against SUU and 87-2 against BYU. The last loss to BYU was in 1998, and the Aggies haven’t beaten Utah since 1979.
Hardly, even though senior Stephanie McAllister, tries diplomatically to make it seem like the possibility is always there.
"A meet is a meet, no matter who you are competing against," she said. "You can’t let your guard down against anyone, and we have to continue to do our thing and grow as a team meet to meet."
This year, the Aggies are battling injuries as coach Jeff Richards tries to rebuild the program. He has only enough gymnasts to put five in the lineup on balance beam and floor.
While understanding Marsden’s position, Richards is hopeful the rivalry will continue in some fashion.
"When they come here they bring a great crowd that is knowledgeable," he said. "They are friendly — it’s not a mean crowd, and competing in front of them has done a lot for us in the past. It’s sad not to have them on the schedule now."
To have the best of both worlds, Marsden is contemplating opening seasons against BYU and involving the other local teams in the meet.
However, the recent scheduling agreement betwen the Big Ten Conference and Pac-12 could throw a wrinkle into those plans, too.
"We don’t know what is going to happen with that," he said. "There is some speculation we could have two four-team meets to start the season, one at a Big Ten school and one at a Pac-12 school, but we just don’t know."Next Page >
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