Qualifying for the NCAA Championships was like taking a huge weight off the Utah gymnastics team's shoulders, the gymnasts say. They didn't want to be the first Utah team to not make it to nationals.
However, with the achievement behind them, the Utes didn't take it easy the past week. If anything, they've felt a sense of urgency.
The NCAA Championships start Thursday. Utah (15-4) will compete in the afternoon session along with UCLA, Oklahoma, Oregon State, LSU and Nebraska.
The evening session consists of second seed and host Florida, Alabama, Stanford, Arkansas, Missouri and Michigan.
The top three teams from each session will advance to Friday's Super Six.
Having felt they were in danger of not qualifying, the Utes have been working harder than ever to make sure they qualify for the Super Six.
"It doesn't get any easier," co-coach Megan Marsden said. "We had to be at our best the other night to move on and we have to be at our best or even better if we plan to move on again," she said."
The Utes feel they have room to score higher, even though they've hit around the 196.95 mark in their past three meets.
"We can improve a lot," junior Kyndal Robarts said. "We had big mistakes on floor, wobbles on beam and some low scores on bars in our last meet."
Of course, every team that has qualified could probably say the same thing. However, the Utes feel they do have a slight advantage in that they now feel as if they've conquered the balance beam after their showing at regionals, when they scored a 49.35 on the event.
"We made some big steps and built a lot of confidence with that," senior Annie DiLuzio said. "That is the kind of beam team we know we can be, but we still have room for improvement. At nationals, it's the little things that separate you, like stuck landings, keeping the knees tight and the little things like that we are working on."
Junior Jacquelyn Johnson , who missed the regional competition with a bruised sacrum, has recovered well and is expected to compete on the uneven bars and floor. Robarts, who competed in the all-around at regionals on a sprained ankle, is also closer to 100 percent. ... Senior Beth Rizzo has a strained Achilles tendon and is day to day.
Taking the long way
Getting to Gainesville from Salt Lake City wouldn't seem like much of a challenge considering it's near a major airport in Orlando.
However, because of the time of year it is and with so many people traveling to Florida for spring, the Utes couldn't find a plane that had enough seats for the team and its traveling party.
The Utes, who leave Tuesday, were left with a travel plan on Southwest that takes them to Las Vegas and then to Jacksonville, where they'll make about a 90-mile drive to Gainesville.
Utes have qualified -- now for the hard part
Thursday-Saturday, Gainesville, Fla.
Afternoon session » No. 1 UCLA, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 5 Utah, No. 8 Oregon State, No. 9 LSU, No. 12 Nebraska
Evening session » No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Alabama, No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 Arkansas, No. 10 Missouri, No. 11 Michigan