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NCAA gymnastics: Underdog Utes say they feel no pressure

Published April 15, 2009 5:17 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For all the talk of how they're tired of second and all the symbolism they've put in wearing gold-trimmed uniforms, the Utah gymnasts still are entering the NCAA Gymnastics Championships in a familiar role they love -- as underdogs.

While they readily see themselves as a contender, the pressure and expectations to win the national title they are gladly putting on Georgia.

The Gym Dogs are going for their fifth straight NCAA title which would tie the Utes (1982-86) for the most consecutive NCAA titles won by a team. They also have the added incentive to win since coach Suzanne Yoculan is retiring.

Georgia missed out on one of its sought-after titles in March when Alabama upset the Gym Dogs to win the SEC Championship, a result that teams such as Utah know will give Georgia even more drive to win this weekend.

It will also add pressure too, in the mind of Utah coach Greg Marsden.

"They have all that stuff on their shoulders, Suzanne's last year, Courtney [Kupets]'s last year, the fifth straight, the 10th NCAA championship," Marsden said. "But they thrive on it, on raising the bar and expectations and not shying away from getting it done."

The rest of the teams, including Utah, don't have any pressure, Marsden said.

"I'm not trying to play any games, just stating fact," he said. "There is a lot of pressure on them and we can relax and see what happens."

Well, not exactly. Yoculan fired that pressure right back at the Utes and the other teams during Wednesday's press conference.

"I've always felt pressure is on everyone else who hasn't won a championship to finally get one," she said. "I don't feel like Georgia has anything else left to prove."

The Utes haven't won an NCAA title since 1995, but if they don't win this weekend, it wouldn't detract from what they accomplished in 2009, the Utes say.

"We've worked so hard, no matter how we do we'll be happy," senior Nina Kim said.

Utah's only loss was at Georgia and to the surprise of many, Utah was arguably a stronger team in 2009 after the graduation of standout Ashley Postell than it was when she was on the roster.

The Utes said they'd make up for her loss with stronger depth, and they held true to those words, as Jamie Deetscreek, Kyndal Robarts and Daria Bijak were much improved.

That success has made winning this weekend more of a bonus than perhaps the necessity that Georgia is probably feeling, senior Kristina Baskett said.

"It would be way more exciting if we do win," she said. "But no way, we can't not be happy if we don't. One week or one day of not achieving what we wanted won't overpower the whole rest of the year to me."

So what gives then in wearing the gold and speaking of being tired of second and at the same time saying less than a championship would be OK?

Can the Utes play both sides? Perhaps it isn't a matter of if they can, but how well they can.

The Utes can say all the pressure is on Georgia, but do they believe it really is?

"If you aren't feeling some butterflies or something in your stomach for something you worked for the entire season, if you aren't feeling nerves and butterflies, you aren't alive," Marsden said. "It's a matter of if you can use that anxiety and channel that."

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NCAA Championships

At Lincoln, Neb.

Today's Preliminaries

Session I, Noon » Stanford, Penn State, Oklahoma, LSU, Georgia, Florida

Session II, 6 p.m. » Utah, UCLA, Illinois, Oregon State, Arkansas, Alabama

The breakdown » The top three teams from each session advance to Friday's Super Six when the NCAA team champion will be awarded. Individually, the NCAA all-around champion will be crowned tonight. The top individual finishers on each event from today qualify for Saturday's individual championships.

Session I

Georgia (22-1)

NCAA seed » 1

National Qualifying Score » 394.955

High score » 198.2

Top all-arounder » Courtney Kupets (39.85)

» LSU (21-5)

NCAA seed » 4

NQS » 393.635

High score » 197.4

Top all-arounder » Susan Jackson (39.7)

» Florida (15-6)

NCAA seed » 5

NQS » 393.49

High score » 196.875

Top all-arounder » Melanie Sinclair (39.575)

» Oklahoma (18-5)

NCAA seed » 8

NQS » 393.065

High score » 197.175

Top all-arounder » Ashley Jackson (39.375)

» Stanford (21-5)

NCAA seed » 9

NQS » 393.025

High score » 197.175

Top all-arounder » Nicole Ourada (39.625)

» Penn State (22-6)

NCAA seed » 12

NQS » 392.04

High score » 196.65

Top all-arounder » Brandi Personett (39.6)

Session II

Utah (17-1)

NCAA seed » 2

NQS » 394.865

High score » 197.8

Top all-arounder » Kristina Baskett (39.675)

» Alabama (13-5)

NCAA seed » 3

NQS » 393.925

High score » 197.35

Top all-arounder » Morgan Dennis (39.725)

» Oregon State (20-9)

NCAA seed » 6

NQS » 393.32

High score » 197.5

Top all-arounder » Mandy Rodriguez (39.6)

» UCLA (21-4)

NCAA seed » 7

NQS » 393.205

High score » 197.125

Top all-arounder » Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (39.525)

» Arkansas (16-9)

NCAA seed » 10

NQS » 392.74

High score » 196.9

Top all-arounder » Casey Jo Magee (39.525)

» Illinois (26-9)

NCAA seed » 11

NQS » 392.715

High score » 196.75

Top all-arounder » Kelsey Joannides (39.375)