Utah gymnastics: 4-team meet will prep U. for NCAAs

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Everything Utah's gymnastics team does is designed to help it perform its best at the NCAA Championships, including Thursday night's quad meet.

The No. 9 Utes (7-2), who are hosting No. 8 Oregon State (10-2), No. 18 Penn State (13-4) and No. 21 SUU (7-2), view tonight's meet as a sort of dress rehearsal for the postseason, when they must compete with other teams on the floor with them.

Other teams get a taste of such competition in their conference championships. The Utes are without that advantage since the Mountain West doesn't sponsor the sport, leaving them to manufacture the sometimes nutty atmosphere.

This meet also will be a run-through for the NCAA Regional Championships, which the Utes host on April 10, when six teams, including the Utes, will compete for two spots in the NCAA Championships held at Florida, April 22-24.

"This is our one chance to get used to the meet protocol," Utah co-coach Megan Marsden said. "We need to make sure the team can focus, especially the new girls, to see what it is like when you have stuff going on on each event."

Making that adjustment can be a little challenging for athletes accustomed to their routines.

"It can be kind of crazy," Utah senior Annie DiLuzio said. "With four teams there, you don't get the pleasure of warming up whatever event you want when you want; the meet's different and everything. It's more of a mental test than anything."

This mental test, in which the Utes must shut everything out and focus on themselves, won't be an easy test physically, either. The Beavers have been ahead of the Utes most of the season while Penn State is a team to respect because scores tend to be lower in the East, Utah coach Greg Marsden said.

"From everything I've heard, I think they will be better than their ranking," he said of Penn State. "SUU in the last couple of years has gotten significantly better and they are a dangerous team if they get on a roll. They can be good enough to beat you."

The Utes are feeling better about their gymnastics this week after battling to beat Nebraska 196.575-195.725 a week ago. Continuing the improvement is the Utes' focus tonight, even in the buzzing atmosphere of the four-team meet.

"We don't want anything different," Marsden said. "We just want to focus on ourselves and not be affected by what is going on around us. We had a better effort last week but we still have a lot of things we need to do. I hope we can get better this week."


Four-team meet

No. 9 Utah vs. No. 8 Oregon State, No. 18 Penn State and No. 21 SUU

About the meet » OSU is on a two-meet losing streak. Its top all-arounder is Mandi Rodriguez (39.55 high), Penn State's top all-arounder is Brandi Personett (39.7) and SUU's top all-arounder is Elise Wheeler (39.55). Utah's Daria Bijak is ranked 13th in the all-around with a 39.335.