Gymnastics: Young Utah team opens at UCLA
With no seniors, five juniors and five sophomores, the theme for Utah's gymnastics team is virtually a repeat of 2012 as the youngsters try to make their mark in the highly competitive Pac-12.
The hope is, of course, that their sequel will be better than the original.
The fifth-ranked Utes, who open the season at No. 2 UCLA on Saturday, have a talented team but an inexperienced one in terms of their responsibilities.
Many of the gymnasts who had only spot roles a year ago must now perform in several events as the Utes search for talent to replace Stephanie McAllister, Cortni Beers and Kyndal Robarts.
Those three were responsible for seven All-America awards and nine of the 24 routines competed.
"When I think of this team, I think of 'Young Guns,' " Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "We have a talented group of athletes who are hard workers. We've had talented teams in the past, but they hated the process. This group seems to embrace the process and works hard, and they've gotten better. But with all that said, there is a big question mark on how people are going to do moving into their new roles."
The Utes will find out where they stand soon enough, thanks to the opener against the Bruins, the team picked to win the Pac-12 title. Last year, the Utes finished second to the Bruins in the Pac-12 championships and placed fifth at the NCAAs.
"We are diving right in," junior Corrie Lothrop said. "It's exciting to go there for our first meet. We know it's going to be a challenge and we have to rise up to it, but it will be a good starting place for us."
Lothrop, the defending Pac-12 all-around champion, is one of the few gymnasts whose role won't change much this year. She'll still be the Utes' go-to person in the all-around. As for the rest of the lineup, it remains to be seen how things will shake out in the first few weeks of the season.
"We have some big holes to fill, and I think, in time, we will get that done," Marsden said. "What I'm not sure of is how long it will take people to get comfortable in their new roles. We've done everything we can to prepare them, now we have to get them out there in meets and find out where we are and where we need to improve."
The good news for the Utes is that their offseason training went well. Georgia Dabritz, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, has worked hard to get over her mental blocks about competing on the balance beam and is expected to be an all-around competitor.
Walk-on junior Hailee Hansen has developed into a strong competitor and was elected a team captain.
Sophomores Becky Tutka and Tory Wilson are expected to contribute on more events while freshman Breanne Hughes is expected to contribute right away. Another freshman, Taylor Allex, only recently started training again after back surgery, but coaches are hopeful she can contribute on the vault.
Also limited by injury right now is sophomore Kailah Delaney, who is coming off knee surgery and won't be available until later in the season.
Event-wise, look for the Utes to be strong on floor and vault, with the balance beam remaining the big question mark.
"That is where we need to work on consistency," Marsden said. "We lost our last three in the beam lineup, so we have to fill those roles."
Opening up against a team like the Bruins is one of the better ways of finding out who can handle the pressure.
The Utes have lost five in a row to the Bruins and are realistic about their chances now, understanding they are underdogs, but up for the challenge, Dabritz said.
"It's a good chance for us in this meet to create a statement," she said. "If we can compete well, that will give us some confidence."
Utah at a glance
• Utah is the only team to qualify for 31 NCAA Championships.
• The Utes return 10letter-winners and five All-Americans from last year's team.
• The U. gymnasts had the best GPAs of any team in the fall semester, averaging 3.651.
• There are no seniors on this team.
No. 5 Utah at No. 2 UCLA
P Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Networks
About the Utes • This is the 10th time in the last 11 years Utah has opened against UCLA. ... Utah is 7-3 in those meets. ... Utah last won in Los Angeles in 2008. ... Sophomore Becky Tutka has been sick and may not compete.
About the Bruins • They beat SUU 196.15-194.875 in the season opener. ... They boast two NCAA vault champions in Vanessa Zamarripa (2010) and Sydney Sawa (2011). ... Samantha Peszek, the 2011 NCAA beam champion, will miss the season with a torn right Achilles tendon.