There is a little fate involved when it comes to Utah’s gymnastics team’s non-conference schedule, since it must be built around the Pac-12 slate.
This year, fate has dealt the Utes quite a test in their regular season finale.
The sixth-ranked Utes take on No. 8 Georgia in Athens on Saturday. The Utes haven’t won in Stegeman Coliseum since 2011 and it is one of the few series in which the Utes are behind, with Georgia leading 28-26-1.
Like Utah, Georgia is known for having a large, loud crowd giving the Gym Dogs a decided home advantage.
In addition, Georgia has been on an upswing lately, upsetting third-ranked Florida 197.45-197.375 on Feb. 22 and scoring a 197.35 last week in a quad win.
By all fronts, Saturday’s rivalry meet should be just the test the Utes need before they head into the post-season starting with the Pac-12 Championships March 23 at the Maverik Center.
“They are a team on the rise and just like last year are making a push at the end of the season,” Utah coach Megan Marsden said. “It’s their senior night and they are a team that competes well on their home floor so it is going to be a difficult meet for us.”
Marsden likes the idea of that challenge, particularly since the Utes only recently seemed to have worked out their balance beam issues by moving Kari Lee to the leadoff spot.
The Utes are only ranked 10th on the event with a 49.245 average, but have had their highest two scores on the event in the last two weeks of 49.375 and 49.35.
Still, Marsden would like her lineup to be pushed one more time. They should get that against Georgia since the Gym Dogs will be finishing the meet on the floor while the Utes are on the beam.
In particular, Marsden will be keeping an eye on her least experienced gymnasts in Sydney Soloski, Adrienne Randall and Alexia Burch.
“They have stepped up to the challenge in the last couple of weeks and that has been fun to see,” she said. “We wanted them to compete in a more aggressive way rather than trying to just tay on the beam. If someone makes a mistake, it needs to be an over-done or a mistake by going big, those are more acceptable than those made when shying away from aggressiveness.”
Winning the meet obviously would be the best outcome, but getting a good score is just as important.
The Utes slipped one spot in the national rankings to No. 6 and want as high a ranking as possible for seedings into the NCAA regional competition. Both the Georgia meet and the Pac-12 Championships can count in the rankings which would allow the Utes to drop one or more of their lower scores.
The Utes, who have a 197.315 regional qualifying score, are jumbled together with fourth-ranked LSU (197.475) and fifth-ranked Denver (197.365), so finishing anywhere from fourth to sixth seems possible.
That kind of ranking likely would send them to LSU or Oregon State for regionals, but the higher ranking the better is what Marsden thinks.
“Winning would be a sweet deal,” she said. “But the scenario first and foremost we have to take care of is making sure our performance is good enough that the deductions are low and the score is high.”
NO. 6 UTAH AT NO. 8 GEORGIA
When: Saturday, 2 p.m. MDT
TV: SEC Network Plus
Records: Utah (10-2), Georgia (9-4)
Series: Georgia leads 28-26-1
Last regular season meeting: Utah won, 198.15-196.35
Of note: The Utes are just 3-12 in Athens and have lost their last three in Stegeman Coliseum…MyKayla Skinner ranks second in the all-around with a 39.645 average…Georgia’s top-ranked all-around gymnast is Sydney Snead, who is ranked No. 10 with a 39.545 average…Georgia is coming off a 197.35 it earned in a quad meet win last week. The Gym Dogs are coached by Courtney Kupets Carter who is in her second year.