Utah gymnastics: Utes looking to regain their mojo
Utah senior Cortni Beers raises her eyebrows, shrugs her shoulders and gives a wry smile as she admits her teammates wonder the same thing as everyone else who follows the Utes' gymnastics team.
Can the Utes, who host the school's first Pac-12 championship event Saturday, get their mojo back?
"It's the question everyone is asking themselves," Beers said. "We just need to get back to the beginning of the season when we were having fun out there and it was a new experience for the freshmen and everyone was excited. As the season has gone on, we've put more and more pressure on ourselves. We need to get back to that excitement we had earlier."
The problem is that Utah wants to ditch the pressure when it is greater than ever.
The Utes face six of the nation's top 25 teams in the competition. However, with their home-floor advantage, the pressure will be on the Utes to rise to the top. More expectations will come when the Utes host the NCAA Regionals on April 7. They must be one of the top two finishers to advance to the NCAA Championships, April 20-22 in Duluth, Ga.
Utah coach Greg Marsden ominously noted after the Utes' 197.9-196.475 loss at Florida that the Utes wouldn't go far in the postseason if they don't improve.
It's a situation no one expected the Utes to be in after they nearly upset the Bruins at home in the season opener, then held the No. 1 ranking for three weeks. Earning that ranking might have done more harm than good, the Utes admit.
"It's weird, we were doing so well then hit that spot and lost things," sophomore Mary Beth Lofgren said. "It got to be a lot of mental stuff, but all we can do is keep working."
Adding to the Utes' dilemma, the teams around them have improved, while their scores have been relatively steady. The top four teams in the country, including UCLA, are all averaging above 197; the Utes average 196.705.
"We aren't much different than we were at the first of the year than we are now, and I will take responsibility for that," Marsden said. "It's my job to get us better prepared."
The Utes have worked on being more aggressive in the gym this week, but their success really comes down to the mental work, which is the more difficult element in gymnastics, they say.
"Your body will know what to do, but you can't tell your mind what to do," Beers said. "If you start freaking out right before you go, it's hard. It takes a lot of practice to turn the mind off."
Most of the gymnasts have worked with sport psychologists to develop routines and habits designed to shut off their minds.
The one common theme is that they all believe they will do their best if they pretend the Pac-12 meet is just another meet.
"Once we got on the road and started traveling and the scoring got tight, we started having problems," McAllister said. "We need to get our confidence back. The good thing is we've done some good things at home and it will be good for us to be in the Huntsman Center."
Hot at home
Most of Utah's problems have occurred on the road this year. Here is a breakdown of the Utes' home and away scoring.
at UCLA 196.025
at ASU 194.0
at Michigan 194.85
at Florida 196.475
Road average • 195.3
vs. USU 197.4
vs. BYU 197.55
vs. Georgia 197.15
vs. Stanford 196.3
vs. Oregon St. 196.575
vs. Nebraska 197.6
Home average • 197.1
Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships
P Saturday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
2 p.m. session • No. 17 Arizona, No. 22 Washington, Arizona State and California
7 p.m. session • No. 4 UCLA, No. 7 Utah, No. 8 Oregon State and No. 11 Stanford
The lowdown • Even though the teams will compete separately, the winner can come out of either session.
Note • The public can attend Friday's practices in the Huntsman Center. The afternoon group will practice from 1 to 2:40 p.m. and the evening group, including the Utes, will practice from 3 to 4:40 p.m.