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Utah gymnastics: Utes look for new ways to address old problem

Published February 21, 2014 12:44 pm

Utah gymnastics • Inconsistency on the 4-inch-wide apparatus is still a sticking point.
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Megan Marsden has been involved in sports at the collegiate level long enough to have a good sense of what the public perception is as her specialty, the balance beam, continues to hinder the Utes.

"If it's any other sport, people are probably wondering about the coach," she said. "Well, I'm wondering too."

However Marsden, who is in her 30th year of coaching the Utes alongside her husband, Greg, hasn't lost faith in her coaching abilities nor her team's balance beam talents, no matter how dire the situation might appear.

The fourth-ranked Utes face one of their toughest challenges of the season Saturday as they host No. 11 Oregon State at 6 p.m. in the Huntsman Center. The meet is a pivotal one for the Utes, who suffered what Greg Marsden described as a "meltdown," on the balance beam in Monday's 197-196.3 loss at Stanford.

The Utes were leading that meet by 0.5 points going into the final rotation but suffered two falls and had subpar routines from the other four gymnasts in the lineup.

The Utes lost the meet, lost their chance at an undefeated regular-season mark and lost some pride. However, Marsden and her gymnasts believe they won't let the setback turn into a full-fledged slide.

"We have a fire this year, and we are going to come back even more determined," junior Tory Wilson said.

But when will determination translate into balance beam success? It's a question no one can seem to answer.

The Utes have struggled on the event for several seasons now, most notably tumbling to a ninth-place finish at the NCAAs last year.

It's enough to make anyone, including Megan Marsden, wonder what is going on with the coaching.

"It does make you question yourself at times," she said. "But I know in my career we've had some incredible beam teams, and the other coaches in our group have had some pretty rough years, too. Greg has gone through it on vaulting and we've seen it on bars and floor, so I'm attempting to take this in stride. It happens to be my event we are struggling with right now."

The Utes have produced some of college gymnastics' best beam workers, including NCAA beam winners Missy Marlowe (1991-92), Summer Reid (1996-97), Theresa Kulikowski (1999, 2001) and Ashley Postell (2007).

In 2001, the Utes made history when all six members of the beam lineup won All-America honors.

As for the current lineup, the greater challenge is staying on the 4-inch-wide apparatus, not winning national awards.

The Utes have fared better this year, even posting a 49.275 at Arizona State. The overall improvement and that ASU performance are two reasons why the shortcomings at Stanford were so shocking.

"We are a better beam team than we were last year," Marsden said. "We have Corrie [Lothrop] back and Kailah Delaney is a 9.95 waiting to happen. We are definitely improved, it just hasn't shown up in the meets yet."

The Utes held a team meeting shortly after the Stanford loss to try and figure out why their successful practices haven't carried over to the meets. They looked at what works on the other events and will try to use some of those mental tactics on the beam. The problem is, the beam is the second-longest event of the meet, lasting up to 1 minute, 20 seconds, while other events such as the vault and uneven bars last less than 30 seconds.

The long routines give the gymnasts a lot of time to think, apparently too much time.

"We'll keep fighting and looking for ways to address it," Marsden said. "We know we have to address it, but we can't freak out and look at it like it's the end of the world either. We just have some athletes who are struggling right now, and we have to get that figured out."

lwodraska@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lyawodraska —

No. 11 Oregon St. at No. 4 Utah

O At the Huntsman Center

Start • Saturday, 6 p.m.

TV • Pac-12 Network

Live scores • utahutes.com

Records • Utah 7-1 (4-1); Oregon State 7-1-1 (1-1)

Series history • Utah leads 60-9

Last meeting • Oregon State, 197.85-197.075 (March 23, 2013)

About the Utes • They are 30-0 against Oregon State in Salt Lake City. … Georgia Dabritz has earned five 9.975s this year, three on the floor and one each on the vault and bars. … A Utah gymnast has won or tied for first on the vault, bars and floor in every meet this season. … Becky Tutka is doubtful to compete on the floor due to a sore Achilles tendon. She was replaced in the lineup at Stanford by Kailah Delaney.

About the Beavers • The defending Pac-12 champs posted a season-high 197.1 against Stanford. … Chelsea Tang has won four of her five all-around competitions and has a season-high of 39.35. … Only loss was to UCLA, 196.425-195.625.