Los Angeles • Utah’s season of unknowns started with a bunch of "uh-ohs" here Saturday as the fifth-ranked Utah gymnastics team fell to No. 2 UCLA 197.425-195.3 in front of 5,580 at Pauley Pavilion.
With no seniors and a roster filled with gymnasts adjusting to new roles, the Utes went into Saturday’s opener unsure of how the youngsters would respond to the pressure of competing against one of the NCAA favorites.
UCLA 197.425,Utah 195.3The No. 5-ranked Utes come close in the vault, but the No. 2-ranked Bruins win every event.
» Utah sophomore Kassandra Lopez sits out with a leg injury. Mary Beth Lofgren replaces her on bars, but falls in the leadoff spot.
The answer came early, as Utah suffered three falls on the uneven bars. The Utes knew they needed to have a great meet to have any shot at upending the Bruins.
Instead of battling for an upset, the Utes spent the rest of the night just trying to make their score respectable.
"We definitely have some work to do," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "We had the mistakes on bars, and people didn’t handle it as well as they could and let it build, let it snowball."
Utah’s poor start was set off by Mary Beth Lofgren, who fell in the leadoff spot. Freshman Breanna Hughes followed with a 9.85, but Nansy Damianova (9.225) and Hailee Hansen (9.275) also had falls.
Lofgren was competing in place of sophomore Kassandra Lopez, who sat out the meet with a strained leg muscle. Her absence only magnified the distance between the teams in talent, as UCLA was stronger from top to bottom.
"We know we have a lot of work to do, and we got nervous and didn’t handle it well," said Corrie Lothrop, who scored a 39.3 in the all-around. "Hopefully with this first meet under our belt, we will relax and do better next week. We can only go up from here."
Utah’s opening was reminiscent of its 2010 opener here in which the Utes lost 196.6-195.125.
That meet was an omen of what was in store for the Utes during the season, as they struggled to find consistent lineups. The Utes finished the regular season 11-3 but landed a disappointing sixth at the NCAA Championships.
The Utes have higher hopes for 2013, although Marsden acknowledged Utah is hindered by the absence of key gymnasts.
Freshman Taylor Allex only recently started training again after back surgery, but coaches are hopeful she can contribute on the vault later in the season.
Also limited by injury is sophomore Kailah Delaney, who is coming off knee surgery and isn’t ready to compete.
"It was the first meet, and we had a lot of people doing things they haven’t done before," Marsden said. "There were some good things, but we made mistakes all the way through. We weren’t sharp and crisp."
The Utes scored a 49.25 on the vault, just off the pace of UCLA’s 49.3. Utah was led by Tory Wilson, who tied for the event title with UCLA’s Olivia Courtney, scoring 9.9. It was the sophomore’s first individual win.
The Utes had their moments on floor, with Damianova and Becky Tutka leading with a 9.85. Unfortunately, they were no match for UCLA’s high-powered and seasoned lineup, which scored a 49.55 to Utah’s 49.1 in the event.
The Utes finished on balance beam, where they managed a 48.875 after leadoff gymnast Wilson fell. Georgia Dabritz, who was second in the all-around with a 39.4, led the Utes with a 9.875.
"After bars, we just said we had to let it go," Lothrop said. "Hopefully we can get back this week and work on some things. It will be good to be at home."
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.