CORVALLIS, Ore. - Utah's gymnastics team hasn't won a national title since 1995. What are the chances of the Utes breaking that streak this weekend here at the NCAA Championships? From the way most of the coaches talked at Wednesday's press conferences, a win is impossible not only for the Utes, but for any team but Georgia.
The Gym Dogs, winners of six national titles, have had one of their most impressive seasons, going 13-0 against the national championship field and winning their fourth straight conference title.
Can they be beaten? It's hard to say they can, when the best keep failing to do so.
"They gave us a pretty good whupping at the SEC Championships," LSU coach D.D. Breaux said. "I'd like to say LSU has a fighting chance and we're going to fight like hell, but . . ."
Breaux stopped short of saying the Gym Dogs would have to have an off-night to lose, but common knowledge rendered finishing her sentence
"They haven't lost a meet all year and I know that comes with a little bit of pressure for them too," Nebraska coach Dan Kendig said. "It's their meet to lose in some ways. There are 11 teams out there who will give it their best shot, and we're one of them that is going to go out and try to hit routines. That's what it's about. You have to just hit routines the best way you can and see how things fly."
If Georgia cracks, Utah is one of the teams that seems most capable of profiting. The Utes gave Georgia its closest meet of the year, losing 197.1-197.075. But before Utah can worry about an upset, it has to get to the Super Six.
Utah competes in the preliminary round today at 2 p.m. The evening session starts at 8 p.m. and includes Georgia. The top three teams from each session advance to Friday's Super Six meet, which starts at 8 p.m.
Utah has missed the cut for the Super Six only twice, in 1997 and '99, since the championships started using the current format in '93, but past victories give little comfort.
"It's the deepest field we've had," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "All six teams are capable of winning that session. It's going to come down to who gets on a roll and is aggressive. You better be at your best to advance to Friday's finals."
The Utes received what is generally considered one of the toughest draws by opening on the balance beam. But senior Kristen Riffanacht, Utah's leadoff gymnast on the event, is determined to turn a possibly bad situation into a positive and hit her routine to give the Utes some momentum.
"It's one of our best events," Riffanacht said. "If we can go out and show we're confident from the start, we can get on a roll like Georgia did and have one of our best meets."
Utah junior Nicolle Ford is Riffanacht's roommate, but the two haven't discussed Utah's opening rotation much. What needs to be done, doesn't need to be said.
"It's one of our strongest events, and it will be good to set the tone for the rest of the night," Ford said. "It's a matter of keeping our nerves down and controlling them. If we do that, things should go pretty well."
TODAY, Corvallis, Ore.
Day Session - 2 p.m.
Utah, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Michigan, LSU,
Evening Session - 8 p.m.
Georgia, Iowa State, Oregon State, Florida, Arizona State, Arkansas