Utah gymnastics: Utes learn painful lesson at NCAAs
Duluth, Ga. • With the sounds of Alabama's gymnastics team celebrating its second straight national title in the background, Utah coach Greg Marsden summed up the meaningfulness of Utah's fifth-place finish.
"You can tell a team how much tenths and little things count, but you can't appreciate it until you are here and you see it for yourself," he said. "You have to live through a year of college gymnastics to really understand what it takes to win."
Consider the Utes well schooled.
The Utes had some of their best performances of the year here at the Gwinnett Center, but still finished right where they were last year.
The reason was twofold: Other teams improved from a year ago, too, and the Utes were continually hindered by small errors and breaks in routines.
The miscues translated not only into losses at places like UCLA and Florida, but also into their fifth-place finish here in the team championships.
The Utes said their intent all year was to have fun and let the results fall where they may. Perhaps next season, the intent should be have fun and stick, then see where they end up.
"The quality of gymnastics is to a point where there is just very little room for error anymore," Marsden said. "To win, you have to get on a roll, it has to be your night, and you can't have the little breaks, steps out of bounds and small things, because those are what are going to make the difference."
The Utes had several small deductions on the vault and floor that prevented them from challenging for the team title after a strong start on the balance beam Saturday.
Why was it so hard for the Utes and not for the other teams to stick their landings and routines? Senior Stephanie McAllister, who had a step-out on the floor, said the issue didn't have anything to do with talent.
"A lot of it I feel is mental," McAllister said. "You are so focused on your routine and getting through it, and sometimes you relax a little at the end."
If that is the case, the good news for the Utes now is they know how much harder they must work on the mental aspect of the sport to be challengers in 2013.
Luckily for them, the Utes return the majority of the team because 11 of the 15 gymnasts are freshmen and sophomores.
The Utes lose McAllister, Cortni Beers and Kyndal Robarts, but return key performers including Corrie Lothrop, Georgia Dabritz and Kassandra Lopez.
The Utes also signed two Junior Olympic national team members in Breanne Hughes and Haley Lange.
The talent level is enough to make Marsden believe the 2013 season can be even better than 2012, especially because the younger gymnasts now have plenty of experience.
"It's a great group," he said. "It's a young team and we lose three talented gymnasts, but I like the direction in which we are headed."
With so many young gymnasts, Marsden had predicted the 2012 season might be inconsistent. He was right: The Utes almost beat UCLA in the season opener, improved to hold the No. 1 ranking for three weeks in a row, then lost their last two regular-season meets.
The Utes had a chance to win the school's first Pac-12 title but suffered two falls on the beam and finished second as they crumpled under pressure.
Then at regionals, they seemed impervious to pressure and won the title.
At nationals, the Utes handled the atmosphere of nationals much better than No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 5 Georgia or No. 6 Nebraska, all of which were seeded ahead of the No. 7 Utes but failed to make the Super Six.
Now, if the Utes can just get down that skill of sticking their landings, they just might be contenders. However, as the Utes learned Saturday, something as seemingly little as hitting a dismount can be a big challenge.
"Sometimes when you are under pressure to perform, you try too hard," Lothrop said. "It's something we'll have to talk about."
Season in review
Best moment • The Utes avenged an earlier loss to Nebraska and won the regional title.
Worst moment • All the Utes needed to do to win the Pac-12 championship was hit their beam routines; instead, they had two falls and finished second.
Key loss • The Utes graduate all-arounder Stephanie McAllister, who was not only a top performer, but also a team leader.
Key returner • Sophomore Corrie Lothrop, who earned All-American honors on the vault, all-around and bars, returns and could be a contender for the NCAA all-around title.
Key addition • The Utes signed Breanne Hughes, a three-time Junior Olympics runner-up on the uneven bars.