Utah gymnastics: New face at UGA but rivalry remains same
What has made the Utah-Georgia gymnastics rivalry one of the strongest in the country has been the legendary battles, on the competition floor and off, between Utah coach Greg Marsden and Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan.
With their sparring, the two competitors electrified not only meets but also press conferences and coaches meetings.
But for the first time in 26 years, Marsden won't see his familiar foe leading the Gym Dogs when they visit the Utes in the Huntsman Center.
Yoculan retired at the end of the 2009 season, leaving with 10 NCAA titles, including the past five in a row. She left the program in the hands of longtime assistant Jay Clark, who has found the task of replacing his mentor a difficult one.
The Gym Dogs, ranked No. 1 in the preseason, are ranked No. 10 and are coming off a 196.275-195.5 defeat at Alabama, a result which snapped a 13-meet regular-season winning streak.
But even with Yoculan gone, the Utes maintain their rivalry with the Gym Dogs is as heated as ever. Marsden said while the rivalry might not be as much fun without Yoculan and her outspokenness, the battles remain the same.
"The history of competitiveness between the teams is what has fueled this rivalry," Marsden said. "The tradition of our success earlier and theirs more recently led to it. A lot of times it was between Utah and Georgia."
The series is close, with Georgia leading 24-20-1, but the Gym Dogs have dominated in recent years, winning 12 of the past 13 meetings. During Georgia's five-time winning streak at nationals, the Utes finished second from 2006 to 2008 and third in 2005 and 2009.
Those results, more than the coaching battles, make the rivalry what it is the Utes say.
"They have been a good team for a very long time," senior Beth Rizzo said. "We are both top programs who have lots of championships and want to be the next one and so do they."
The last time the Utes beat Georgia was in 2008, when Utah opened the season with a 196.3-196.2 victory. But the Gym Dogs still got the last laugh when they won the NCAA title while the Utes were stuck with second for the third time in a row.
Losing like that on a regular basis is the source of the Utes' frustration, Annie DiLuzio said.
"The rivalry doesn't change with the coaching change," she said. "It can't. It's bigger than BYU just based on the past history. We've tried to fill in the freshmen on what has been happening the past three years so they know it's a big rivalry."
While the rivalry between Marsden and Yoculan had its bitter moments, even leading to a period of time when the two refused to compete against one another, the rivalry between Marsden and Clark is a little more friendly, the two said.
The two have spoken on a regular basis in the past for scheduling purposes and want to continue the rivalry.
"Greg and I have always gotten along well," Clark said. "I have the utmost respect for him and that program. Greg has always been supportive of me as a person, in many ways, a friend. Make no mistake, we want to win, but there is no bad blood there."
As for his coaching philosophy, Clark said he plans to continue the philosophies and coaching strategies Yoculan implemented which made the program a success.
He just won't be doing it in stilettos.
"My coaching style in the gym is not all that different to Suzanne's," he said. "It is the public personality where people will see the difference. I guess I appear more reserved and less animated, but I assure you the passion and intensity is there."
Today, 7 p.m. Huntsman Center
What to look for » The two programs have combined for 20 of the past 34 national titles. ... The teams have met just 10 times in the regular season, winning five apiece. ... Georgia's Courtney McCool was the 2008 NCAA floor champion and Grae Taylor was the 2008 NCAA balance beam champion.
Elsewhere » Utah State competes at SUU tonight and BYU is at Denver Saturday.
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