In a sport where the only time it matters if you win is in the spring, who prevails in January isn't always much of a concern - unless the team on the floor with you is UCLA.
The two-time national defending champion Bruins open against Utah at 7 p.m. tonight in the Huntsman Center.
The two teams have combined for 15 national championships, but aside from their
title conquests, the teams have built a strong rivalry in recent years.
In 2003, UCLA beat Utah in the Huntsman Center to break Utah's NCAA-record 23-year, 170-meet home winning streak. Last year, the Utes upset the Bruins in the season-opener in Los Angeles.
"We know we won last year, but for me, this is still about revenge for them beating us at home," Utah senior Annabeth Eberle said. "It would be nice to beat them in the Huntsman Center."
The Bruins, winners of four of the last five titles, are favored again this year because of their Olympic recruiting pipeline.
Leading the 2005 UCLA team are Canadian Olympian Kate Richardson, the defending uneven bars and balance beam national champion, and U.S. 2000 Olympian Kristen Maloney. Another Olympian - Tasha Schwikert - joined the team this year. She was Maloney's teammate in 2000.
The Bruins would have had another, Utah freshman Ashley Postell, if it weren't for some glitches with the NCAA clearinghouse that delayed her application. Already full of world-quality gymnasts, UCLA - probably the only school in the country that would pass on a world champion - didn't wait on her.
"They are loaded with talent," Utah coach Greg Marsden said of the Bruins. "The unknown is how the freshmen will replace people that were reliable. Expectations are high, but it's different when you have to compete every week because they aren't used to that."
For its part, Utah won't hold back much in this meet, because most of its difficult moves are in place. Normally, at this point in the season, a team won't bust out its best moves, but facing UCLA is an exception.
The only one who won't be at full strength is sophomore Rachel Tidd, whose training has been hampered with back spasms.
UCLA is the first of several national contenders the Utes face this year. Utah will compete against all of the top 12 teams except Alabama, LSU and Oklahoma.
Added to the schedule for the first time this year is Georgia, a team the Utes haven't competed against in a dual meet since 1991. That year, the Utes won in Athens by .05, but the meet ended in a feud over the scoring between Marsden and Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan, which led to the end of the regular-season competitions.
"It's a very tough schedule," Marsden said. "What is interesting is that so many teams are young, and you just don't know how quickly they'll adjust to competing week in and week out."
No. 1 UCLA
vs. No. 5 Utah
Tonight, 7 p.m.