As season winds down, Utes in great condition
It survived matchups with some of the nation's best. Almost all of the upgrades are in, the team is nearly as healthy as it was at the start of the season and it has its No. 1 ranking back.
The University of Utah's gymnastics team, which plays host to Washington tonight, is in as good of shape as it could possibly hope as the regular season winds down. After tonight, Utah has just two meets
left, at home against Arizona State next week and at BYU the following week.
"We are right where we need to be," sophomore Nicolle Ford said. "Practices are going well, and everyone knows their job and gets it done."
Being at home against some lesser opponents after going up against Nebraska, Georgia and Florida is a welcome respite for a team eager to regroup for its push to the NCAA Championships in April.
"We've been dealing with a lot, we're pretty tired," senior Annabeth Eberle said. "A lot of us were sick or had some hard stuff for school."
At this point, getting through the final meets without any major injuries and with some polishing of the routines are the major objectives.
The first of the two can be more difficult than it seems.
"We were in good shape last year, too; what killed us is when Rachel [Tidd] came down with mono after regionals," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "We had a great season, we went 13-1, we just weren't deep enough after we lost her."
Utah's depth has been its strong point this year. Several gymnasts have missed a meet here or there with minor injuries or illness, but the Utes have had just two meets where they've had to count a score of 9.45 or less.
"We've only had a couple meets where all four of us have competed," Ford said of the all-arounders. "We've had others come in and compete just as well. Some are even getting frustrated because they're doing great routines, but it's hard for them to break into the lineup."
Even when the Utes have had a fall, someone else almost always comes back with a great routine to stop what could be a downward slide.
"We haven't self-destructed, and I feel good at how competitive we've been," Marsden said. "It's important to battle through when one has a fall, and we've accomplished that."
With most of the upgrades in, and the lineups nearly finalized, the Utes are paying more attention to details and the way they perform the routines. National championships are often lost with a step on a dismount or a handstand that is off - mistakes that seem slight, until first and second place are separated by a tenth of a point.
Utah has experienced a bit of that already in its close losses to Nebraska and Georgia.
"If I had stuck my beam dismount, we would have won at Nebraska," Eberle said. "Ashley said if she had hit her bars at Georgia, we would have won there. We just need to make sure we stick our landings, and everything flows as well as it could."
Washington at No. 1 Utah, 7 p.m., Huntsman Center
Utah: Sophomore Rachel Tidd has an ear infection and has practiced little this week. Her status is questionable.
Washington: High score is a 195.275. Top all-arounder is Carly Dockendorf (39.4).
Elsewhere: No. 20 SUU at Eastern Michigan, Sat., 8 p.m.