Utah gymnastics: Utes starts season with a showdown
Most teams like to ease into a season when possible by playing either a few exhibition games or maybe stocking the first-half of the schedule with some lighter competition.
Not Utah's second-ranked gymnastics team, no far from it. They're starting off the season not only against the fifth-ranked team in the country, but a team that probably has revenge on its mind when Utah visits UCLA on Saturday.
The last time the teams faced one another was at the 2009 NCAA Championships. The teams tied for third in their preliminary round but Utah was allowed to advance to the Super Six over UCLA by winning the tiebreaker. All of the scores were added, giving the Utes a mere 234.65-234.575 victory over the Bruins.
Utah went on to finish third while all the Bruins were left with was free time to contemplate how they'd barely missed out on the Super Six.
Utah and UCLA have always had a strong rivalry and such a close decision has only added to it, not that the Utes are showing much concern.
For them, they insist, the season opener is more about finding out who they are than being a must-win situation.
"We know they are a great team but we're going in there to do our best as a team because it's the first meet," senior Annie DiLuzio said. "Everybody is going to be nervous. I'm sure most coaches are talking about that. We just want to get out there and do our routines and see how they feel."
Gymnastics teams have that luxury of not putting too much emphasis on actually winning meets since they qualify for the NCAA Championships by scoring average, not their win-loss records.
However, Utah coach Greg Marsden understands gymnasts are also extremely competitive, which is why he schedules teams such as UCLA early in the season.
"It's easy to get the team up and excited about this meet," he said. "UCLA is one of the teams we know will be at the championships that we have to compete with. It will tell us at this point where we are and a good idea of what we need to do."
Marsden plans to use seniors Daria Bijak and Jamie Deetscreek in the all-around along with junior Kyndal Robarts.
Other veterans will fill the majority of the spots as Marsden watches to see who his leaders might be this season to replace departed seniors Kristina Baskett and Nina Kim.
"They left big shoes to fill, but it's someone else's opportunity to fill those shoes and those roles now," he said. "We're looking forward to getting out there on the floor and seeing it."
Even when facing as tough a challenge as competing at UCLA, Deetscreek said she feels good about the Utes' progress in the preseason.
"Everybody looks confident and ready to go," she said. "We are going to try and start out as good as we can and build on that this season."
Saturday, 5 p.m.
About the meet » The Utes have won their last five season openers against the Bruins and lead the series 42-13-1 overall and 14-12-1 since 1995. ... Freshman Katelyn Mohr could compete on the balance beam.