Ann Arbor, Mich. » As a team that never backs down from scheduling quality competition, Utah's gymnastics team has competed in some of the toughest places in collegiate gymnastics, including Georgia, Florida and UCLA.
But tonight's meet in Ann Arbor against the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines represents one of the program's greatest challenges.
While the Wolverines' football team has its Big House, Michigan's gymnastics team could claim it has the Difficult House, an arena the Utes struggle to perform well for whatever reason.
"Being from the Midwest, I can say this," senior Beth Rizzo said. "It's just cold and miserable."
She was probably thinking of the weather when she said that, but her assessment could include Crisler Arena too when it comes to the Utes' results. Utah beat the Wolverines 197.425-196.325 in its last visit there in 2008, but are just 2-5 in Ann Arbor altogether. The Utes' other win was in 2006, a 196.4-196.1 victory.
"It's just a tough place to compete," senior Annie DiLuzio said. "They are a great group of gymnasts. But every road meet is a challenge for any team. We have to be ready and focused and approach it the same way we have all our meets, by concentrating on ourselves and what we need to do."
The Utes lost their season opener on the road, 196.6-195.125 to UCLA, then won at Washington and at Arizona State.
With the Wolverines a contender to make the NCAAs along with the Utes, Utah coach Greg Marsden likens this meet more to the home opener than the others.
"We knew at ASU and in Seattle that unless we really screwed up we should win," he said. "We have to be really good if we expect to win or even be close against Michigan. Bu this is what we need right now, a tough situation to see how we handle a close meet."
After the disappointing loss to the Bruins, Utah performed better at Washington and Arizona State, prompting Marsden to believe his team has improved.
"I was encouraged," he said. "We hadn't competed well before that and we did a really good job. I hope we can see this meet as a challenge and do another good job in a tough situation."
The Utes have the advantage of hosting the NCAA Regional Championships, but the NCAA Championships are at Florida, another tough place to compete. The Utes visit the No. 4 Gators on March 19.
However, they don't want to wait until then, their final regular-season road meet, to prove they can handle the pressures of a close meet away from the Huntsman Center. They'd rather do that tonight.
"You want to be a good road team and show that you not only can do well with your own crowd but one that probably doesn't like us very much," Rizzo said. "Definitely competing at Florida in the SEC is going to be tough."
Today, 5:30 p.m.
About the meet » Utah's Gael Mackie is expected to miss her second straight meet with an ankle injury. ... Michigan and Utah eac beat Iowa State earlier this season. ... Michigan's only loss was to Nebraska.
Elsewhere » BYU travels to Utah State today for a 7 p.m. meet.