Utah gymnastics: Last battle of the titan coaches today

Marsden, Yoculan add final chapter to rivalry.
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Utah coach Greg Marsden remembers one of his first meetings with Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan as they watched a club meet together.

"She'd just gotten the job at Georgia and she was picking my brain about things," he said. "Then she made it absolutely clear, 'Get ready, I'm gonna get you.'"

The two winningest coaches in collegiate gymnastics have been going at each other ever since, totaling a combined 19 national titles, 1,706 wins and just 271 losses.

The duo will have their final head-to-head showdown today -- Yoculan is retiring at season's end -- as the No. 2 Utes (1-0) compete at No. 8 Georgia (1-0).

The Utes haven't beaten Georgia in Athens since the teams revived their regular season meetings in 2005, after a 13-year break. The long avoidance was due to a disagreement between the coaches in 1991 over the judging, when Utah won 193.550-193.500 in Athens.

That fiery battle is just one of the many the two coaches have had. Boring has never been a way to describe the schools' series as neither coach is afraid of showing emotions or speaking their minds. While both admit their competitiveness sometimes has gotten the best of them on the floor, the two nevertheless have formed a bond out of mutual respect for their strong feelings.

Often, the two are the only coaches who dare give their honest opinions in a so-called polite sport. Yoculan frequently does her talking in the media, daring teams to beat hers or guaranteeing national championships. Her brash attitude has made gymnastics a popular sport at Georgia, drawing fans who otherwise would only care about football.

"She has been great for college gymnastics," Marsden said. "She has been criticized for her bluntness, but she has created interest in the sport, and whether you love her or hate her, she is a personality you can't help be interested in what she says or how she says it. Give her a lot of credit for building a program that was in trouble at the time and turning it around. She made it into a juggernaut."

Marsden, meanwhile, is recognized as a pioneer in popularizing the sport by making it more fan-friendly and continues to push for rule and format changes with fans in mind, even if it makes him unpopular with other coaches who don't want to stir things up. Yoculan isn't one of those and understands his drive.

"My respect for Greg goes beyond his coaching record," Yoculan said. "As far as I am concerned, he has influenced collegiate gymnastics more than anyone else and when voting on rules, et cetera, he has always put the welfare of our sport above what benefits his own team. I have learned so much from Greg through the years, but when we hit the floor, all I think about is how to beat him. I wonder if he plays golf."

The answer is no, Marsden doesn't play golf, which is one of the reasons he doesn't see himself following Yoculan into retirement anytime soon.

"I don't golf and I don't fish and this is what I get up in the morning thinking about," he said of gymnastics. "I think about how we can make the sport better and what we can do as a whole. It's what I go to bed thinking about. As long as I'm physically able to do this, I can't imagine not doing it."

While this is the last head-to-head meetings between the coaches in a dual meet, both anticipate going against one another at the NCAA Championships in April, a possibility that will keep the competitive fire boiling in the two throughout the season.

A week ago, Marsden told the Athens Banner-Herald he wished Yoculan luck, "but we're going to try our best to spoil her last year."

Yoculan, on the other hand, sees her final year as a chance to go out one-up on Marsden because she doesn't really count Utah's first national title, won in 1981 under the AIAW banner and not the NCAA, which began sponsoring the sport in 1982.

"Our rivalry with Utah has been like The Battle of the Titans," she said. "Score: 9 to 9!"


No. 2 Utah at No. 8 Georgia

At Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.

Start time » 2 p.m. MT

Records » Utah 1-0, Georgia 2-0

Series » Georgia leads 22-20-1

Last regular-season meeting » Utah won, 196.3-196.2 in Salt Lake City, Jan. 11, 2008

About the Utes » Had a few extra days off after opening with a 196.175-196.075 win over UCLA. … Nina Kim is ranked No. 1 on the vault and Kristina Baskett is ranked No. 2 on the uneven bars. … Beth Rizzo, who sprained an ankle against UCLA is out 4-6 weeks. Kyndal Robarts (shoulder injury) is out indefinitely.

About the Gym Dogs » Coming off a 196.85-195.95 win at LSU on Friday. … Olympian Courtney McCool isn't competing because of a stress fracture in her foot. … Courtney Kupets, whose 2008 season ended prematurely when she tore her Achilles' tendon, is ranked No. 1 in the uneven bars.

Got his number?

Georgia is one of the few schools that Greg Marsden doesn't have a winning record against, with a 20-22-1 mark. The others are:

Alabama » 19-20

Clarion » 0-5

Indiana State » 0-2

Massachusetts » 1-2

SW Missouri St. » 2-4

Utah's Greg Marsden

34th year

Record: 901-155-5

National titles: 10

Georgia's Suzanne Yoculan

25th year

Record: 806-116-7

National titles: 9

No. 2 Utah at No. 8 Georgia

At Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.

Start time » 2 p.m. MT

Records » Utah 1-0, Georgia 2-0