When it comes to rivalries, the competitiveness between the Utah and UCLA gymnastics teams is about as friendly as it gets. Utah coach Greg Marsden and UCLA’s Valorie Kondos Field have a good relationship, and many of the Utah and UCLA gymnasts know each other from their days of competing at the elite level.
But the fourth-ranked Utes say all the niceties will end Saturday when they host the eighth-ranked Bruins at 7:30 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.
No. 8 UCLA at No. 4 Utah
O Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV » Pac-12 Network
Live scores » www.utahutes.com
Records: Utah (4-0, 1-0); UCLA (1-1, 1-0)
Series » Utah leads 43-24-1
Last meeting » UCLA won 197.2-196.2, April 19, 2013
About the Utes » Tory Wilson is ranked No. 7 in the all-around with a 39.425 average. … The Utes have hit 44 of 48 routines. … Georgia Dabritz and Wilson lead the Utes with six wins apiece. … This is a blackout meet for the Utes. … Fans should be in their seats by 7:20 p.m. for introductions because the meet will start promptly at 7:30 p.m. for TV broadcast.
About the Bruins » Were picked to finish ahead of the Utes in the preseason Pac-12 poll by one vote. … Return all five All-Americans from last year’s team that finished fourth at the NCAAs. … Senior Olivia Courtney is tied for first in the nation this week on vault, and junior Samantha Peszek is first on the beam. … Coached by Valorie Kondos Field, who is in her 24th year.
The Utes lead the overall series against the Bruins but have lost their last eight meetings, dating back to a Jan. 7, 2011 win.
Hearing of the drought, senior Corrie Lothrop’s eyes grew wide.
"That was my freshman year," she said. "That is so long, it’s frustrating."
A win by the Utes not only would end the frustrations, but also show the Utes are indeed a legitimate contender for the Pac-12 title — and possibly more.
Although the early season meet averages have the Bruins ranked lower than Utah, UCLA was picked to finish first in the league in the preseason poll, just ahead of the Utes. The Bruins also almost upset then-No. 1 ranked Florida, losing just 196.65-196.625.
Marsden said the biggest difference between the teams right now is the level of difficulty.
"They’ve played it a little safer with less difficulty and trying to be clean and really emphasize choreography," he said. "With the nature of the athletes we have, we’ve taken another approach and we are doing a lot more difficulty. That’s just who we are."
The Utes have been able to do more difficulty earlier in the season than normal because the offseason training went so well and because they have the kind of athletes who excel in the power events of vault and floor.
The Utes lead the national vault rankings with an average of 49.463 and are second on floor behind UCLA with a 49.375 to UCLA’s 49.413.
While a tight meet is expected, Utah’s strength in those two events could go a long ways in helping the Utes end their drought.
Big scores on the vault could give the Utes a lot of momentum early, while finishing on the floor should be an advantage if they can hit and produce clean landings because the judges will have to rely on difficulty to separate the two teams.
"We have been focusing more on the tumbling and not the landings early with the hope the landings improve with each week," Marsden said. "We’ll see if it is going to help us or bite us in the rear this weekend. We know what UCLA is going to do; it’s going to be a matter of how we handle our stuff."
Of course, what happens on floor might not matter unless Utah can get its issues worked out on the balance beam.
Two falls from the event marred Utah’s road win at Cal. The Utes aren’t concerned — yet — because the mistakes were from Baely Rowe and Mary Beth Lofgren, who are normally solid competitors. But the Utes still can’t afford those kind of errors in showdowns such as these.
"We haven’t been perfect, but we are taking steps in the right direction," Lofgren said. "Hopefully we can keep moving forward with every meet. We know this is a big rivalry for us, and we feel we’re ready for the challenge."
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