Utah's gymnastics team moved up to the No. 1 ranking just in time to defend its lofty position against one of its toughest rivals.
The Utes, who jumped from No. 3 to No. 1 following Friday's 197.55-194.45 win over BYU, host No. 4 Georgia on Friday at the Huntsman Center.
The Bulldogs are coming off a 197.25-195.75 win over LSU.
A meeting with their familiar rival plus the No. 1 ranking had the gymnasts buzzing with excitement before Monday's practice.
"It's so cool," senior Kyndal Robarts said. "It has been awhile since we were No. 1, so it means something."
The last time the Utes were No. 1 was in 2009, when they held the top spot for three weeks. But unlike that year, when the Utes felt they needed other top teams to have mistakes for them to have a shot at winning the national title, this year the Utes feel they are good enough to control their own destiny.
"The last couple of years we've been a good team and have been competitive, but there has been a ceiling on how competitive we could be and for us to win against the top teams, they had to make mistakes," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "If we can stay healthy and continue to improve and eliminate deductions, there is no ceiling with this team. It is good enough."
Winning Friday's meet would go a long way in adding legitimacy to Marsden's hunch.
The Utes have won the past two meetings with the Gym Dogs, including last year's meet in Athens, Ga., which broke Georgia's home winning streak at 34 in a row, dating back to the 2005 season.
The Utes know Georgia will have revenge on its mind, particularly since Utah now has the top ranking.
"I feel like we deserve it," senior Stephanie McAllister said. "It's cool to be ranked No. 1. Greg talks so much about not worrying about the outcome, but when you see the rankings come out and you are No. 1, it's pretty exciting."
In the rankings
Florida made one of the biggest jumps, moving from No. 8 to No. 3 after Friday's showing, in which it earned the nation's highest score by beating Arkansas 197.775-196.7.
Utah's Corrie Lothrop is No. 9 in the all-around (39.38), Kailah Delaney is No. 4 on the vault (9.925), McAllister and Lothrop are tied for eight on the uneven bars (9.8675), Robarts is 10th on the balance beam (9.85), Georgia Dabritz is No. 2 on the floor (9.917) and McAllister is seventh on the floor (9.8925).
Room for improvement
Marsden said he liked what he saw when reviewing Friday's win over BYU, but also saw plenty of places in which the Utes can improve.
"We need to work on handstands and landings and amplitude and those kinds of things," he said. "It's pretty technical stuff, but those are the little things that make the differences at nationals and in meets like this one this week."
Around the state
SUU, which earned a season-high 194.525 in a win over Boise State and Utah State Friday, is on the road with a meet at Sacramento State Saturday. Utah State hosts Arizona State Friday. BYU hosts Boise State Saturday at noon.
Top 25 gymnastics rankings
Ranking, Team, Average (Previous Ranking)
1. Utah 196.992 (3)
2. Arkansas 196.756 (1)
3. Florida 196.563 (8)
4. Georgia 196.519 (7)
5. Oklahoma 196.444 (5)
6. Alabama 196.325 (6)
7. UCLA 196.231 (1)
8. Oregon St. 196.05 (10)
9. Nebraska 195.9 (4)
10. Penn St. 195.869 (9)
11. Ohio St. 195.519 (11)
12. Stanford 195.117 (12)
13. Auburn 195.016 (16)
14. LSU 194.9 (17)
15. Denver 194.738 (18)
16. Boise St. 194.7 (13)
17. Missouri 194.663 (20)
18. Arizona 194.625 (15)
19. Illinois 194.5 (14)
20. West Va. 194.444 (25)
21. Wash. 194.419 (22)
22. Michigan 194.292 (19)
23. N.C. St. 194.25(20)
24. Iowa 194.181 (23)
25. Minn. 194.006 (NR)