Gainesville, Fla. • Utah's gymnastics team tempered the disappointment of its sixth-place finish here at the NCAA Championships by focusing on the future, not the past, even before the Utes left the arena.
"Me and Stephanie [McAllister] and Jac [Johnson] were all talking how this year lit a fire under us," junior Kyndal Robarts said, shortly after the Utes posted a 196.225 in Friday's Super Six. "We were talking about what we need to do to get everybody on board and just go for it. It lit a fire under us and we want to go big and show them by leading by example and working hard. We want to come to play next year."
Such an attitude wasn't always present among the 2010 Utes, whose performance in the NCAA Championships was indicative of the whole season.
One day the Utes looked great as they rolled through the preliminaries, the next they fumbled through the balance beam and never threatened for the national title.
"Obviously it was a roller coaster ride," Utah coach Greg Marsden said of the season. "We had some great moments like beating Georgia at home and the quad meet that was really good and we had a good effort at regionals and the first night here. Then there were some tough nights like [Friday]. It's been a roller coaster and you'd like to finish on top with that roller coaster but we didn't."
The Utes, who finished out of the top three for the first time since 2004, say they know better what it takes to be successful and will be more prepared in 2011.
"It definitely motivates me," sophomore Stephanie McAllister said. "Me and Kyndal talked about it already about what we need to do to get fired up and get everyone on board. Hopefully we can come in fresh and have a good year."
Even though they came into the season relatively strong, it wasn't until the last few meets of the year that the Utes looked like their typical, NCAA-contender selves.
Often times, Marsden said, the team had to manufacture its motivation to do well. Hearing the motivation of the returning gymnasts might make for an easier time in 2011.
"We will use this as motivation, that is what you have to do," he said. "You know what you have accomplished and you can feel good about that, but you have to be challenged to come back and do things in the offseason to get better."
Even so, despite the troubles the Utes still managed to reach some notable achievements. They were undefeated in the regular season at home, became the first team other than basketball to win a women's NCAA attendance title by averaging 14,213 fans and maintained their streak of qualifying for every NCAA Championship.
No other team can claim that achievement. The Utes also qualified for their 13th straight Super Six event.
"There were times when nobody thought we could get as far as we did," Marsden said. "The finish wasn't what we'd hoped for, but we have to be pleased with what we accomplished this year."
The Utes graduate seniors Daria Bijak, Jamie Deetscreek, Beth Rizzo and Annie DiLuzio. Bijak and Deetscreek were two of the Utes' best in the all-around while DiLuzio consistently produced high scores on her three events and Rizzo was a steady contributor on vault.
While they lose several key gymnasts, the Utes also welcome some talented athletes too, including 2008 Canadian Olympian Nansy Damianova, Corrie Lothrop, a 2008 U.S. Olympic team alternate and Lia Del Priore, a former junior international elite.
"It's going to be a new and exciting and scary at the same time," Marsden said. "We are losing some talented people and we have to get back and lick our wounds and start getting ready for next year."
Jan. 7 UCLA
Jan. 14 at Georgia
Jan. 21 at Nebraska
Jan. 28 Stanford
Feb. 4 Arizona State
Feb. 11 Washington
Feb. 18 Michigan
Feb. 25 at Utah State
March 4 Florida
March 11 at Oregon St.
March 18 at BYU