Athletes on the University of Utah's gymnastics team were some of the first passengers to arrive at the Salt Lake airport Tuesday, taking a 7 a.m. flight to Atlanta as they made their way to Auburn, Ala., for the NCAA gymnastics champ-
But the Utes' plans were unexpectedly changed when their plane was grounded for mechanical reasons, leaving them stranded for almost two hours before they could take another flight.
The delay was a good reminder that no matter how prepared you are, something always can go wrong. And lately for the Utes, more than flight delays have made their trips to the NCAA Championships frustrating experiences.
Which is why, when they finally did board a plane, they took with them their backpacks, music, books and restrained hopes.
The regular season couldn't have gone much better for the Utes. Utah opened with a win over defending champion UCLA, taking the Bruins' No. 1 ranking in the process, then stayed atop the poll for much of the season.
Yes, the Utes lost to Nebraska and Georgia, but they turned those losses into positives, coming back stronger the next week as they corrected problems. Utah won its last five meets, including the region title, and kept its lineup relatively healthy in the process.
"I don't know if there is anything more we could have done," freshman Ashley Postell said. "We made some little mistakes, but we corrected them. I don't know if we could have done any better."
With all of the positives, it's hard for the Utes not to enter the NCAAs with their eyes set on the national title, a trophy they haven't held since 1995, the longest period the Utes have gone without winning a title since they claimed their first in 1981.
"It would be very disappointing with the depth and talent that we have if we don't finish in the top three; we should be in the top three," sophomore Nicolle Ford said. "If we don't, it will have to be because of a fluke, something we haven't had all year."
Flukes, though, have been the norm for Utah in its past two NCAAs, as falls on the uneven bars took it out of contention for the title.
Maybe that is why Utah coach Greg Marsden is stressing to his athletes to hit all of their routines, and not worry about the scores they earn.
"We don't want any falls, that is our goal," Marsden said. "I don't like to talk about outcomes of where we can finish, because you can't always control that, but if we do hit our routines, then we should place high, and maybe even be good enough to win."
An ability to right itself after a misstep is the mark of a champion. Still careful not to talk about high hopes, lest they be crushed, the Utes can't help but feel they are in as good a position as they ever have been to win a national title.
"There are high expectations," Ford said. "But we don't want to put that on our shoulders, we don't want that kind of pressure. We had a good season last year and finished sixth. We have to improve on that."
A sixth-place finish wouldn't be a bad spot for some, but it wouldn't be good enough for the Utes this year, not after the season they've had.
"I have a different feeling about this team than I have the last three years, in a good way," senior Annabeth Eberle said. "With that said, we'll just have to see what happens."
Senior Gritt Hofmann, who strained a calf muscle in practice last week, only did light tumbling into the pit Monday as the injury is turning out to be more problematic than it was first thought. Sophomore Rachel Tidd's back hasn't gotten better even though she has had more than a week of rest. She is still scheduled to compete in the all-around, but could be held to only two events in Thursday's preliminary round.
* Thursday at Auburn, Ala.
* Utah is in the morning session and BYU competes in the afternoon session.