Regionals don't concern the Utes
Who: Utah, BYU, SUU and three other teams, 6 p.m. tonight, Huntsman Center
What: Top two teams qualify for nationals
Elsewhere: Utah State competes in the Central Region at Alabama against the Tide, Iowa State, Auburn, Kentucky and Kent State.
Utah gymnast Ashley Postell hasn't been around long enough to know what to expect during tonight's North Central Regional meet at the Huntsman Center. But she has been around long enough to know how her teammates expect it to end - with a Utah win.
"No, of course not," the freshman answered when asked if Utah could lose. "Everyone on this team is ready for this."
The regional meet can be a gut-wrenching and dramatic experience for some teams, but not for the Utes, who have qualified for every national championship in the program's 30-year history.
Utah has won the last five region titles and enters the postseason as the nation's top-ranked team for the first time since 1993. The Utes have wins over the top three other teams in the region, and have the advantage of competing at home on their own equipment.
Postell's answer isn't based on cockiness, but a realism shared by others.
"They've done this so many times, they know what to expect," Southern Utah University coach Scott Bauman said. "They are extremely well-coached and they have the crowd behind them. It's a big weapon for them and [that] makes it hard for everyone else."
This is the one meet where finishing second is almost as good as first. Utah may get the regional title, but the second-place finisher gets the same big prize, a spot in the NCAA championships in Auburn, Ala., starting April 21.
Competing with the Utes tonight at 6 p.m. are Oregon State, Brigham Young, Minnesota, Southern Utah and Iowa.
The Utes have wins over OSU, BYU and Minnesota, the three teams expected to battle for second.
Of those, the Beavers and the Cougars would be the slight favorites. Oregon State has been solid all year, and gave NCAA defending champ UCLA a scare at the Pac-10 championships. BYU has enjoyed one of its better seasons and will have the crowd behind it as well.
SUU also has had its best season, and is there if any other teams slip up. But not making it to nationals wouldn't be a disappointing ending for Bauman.
"We're such a small school, there isn't really any pressure on us," he said. "If the other teams hit and we hit with one of our best meets, we could still finish fifth or sixth."
Utah is different. The Utes have the talent to win easily.
"We have something to prove every time we step out on the floor," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "After every meet, everyone wants to know if you can repeat that performance or do it even better."
Instead of last-minute scrambling for lineup changes or upgrades, the Utes have spent the last couple of practices working on the finer details, such as getting used to the postseason format by starting their practice on bars and then going to beam, just like they will tonight.
"We've had some really good practices," senior Annabeth Eberle said. "The whole week has been good, and now that it's here, you can feel the excitement.
We know if we do what we've been doing, we can qualify for nationals, but we can't afford to not get hyped up for the meet either."
Utah should be at full strength as well. Sophomore Rachel Tidd continues to be limited in practice with ongoing back problems, but should compete in the all-around along with Postell, Eberle and Nicolle Ford.
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